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Chapter 10: Social Media for Nonprofits

Chapter 10: Social Media for Nonprofits

Nonprofits have long known about the value of reaching their constituents through multiple channels, including direct mail, events, face-to-face interactions, phone calls and emails. Now, social media is an important platform to add to this mix. You need to “meet your donors where they are” — and increasingly, that’s on social media.
Nonprofits have long known about the value of reaching their constituents through multiple channels, including direct mail, events, face-to-face interactions, phone calls and emails. Now, social media is an important platform to add to this mix. You need to “meet your donors where they are” — and increasingly, that’s on social media.

Social Media Overview
Chances are, you’re already familiar with social media: the online and mobile platforms that enable people to connect with one another and share information, ideas and interests. You might already be using popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Social Media Overview
Take a look at some of the most popular social media sites and their specific benefits for nonprofit organizations:

Facebook: Facebook is the most popular and well-known social media website, with more than 2 billion worldwide monthly active users1 and 1.5 million nonprofits with their own Facebook pages.2 It also has the most robust tools for nonprofits. Facebook has a special section for nonprofits that provides detailed information on how nonprofits can use the platform to connect with prospects and raise funds. If you have a sufficient advertising budget, you might consider advertising on Facebook.

The social media giant allows nonprofits to include “donate” buttons on their pages, in posts, during live events and in Facebook ads. Facebook offers the following tips for collecting donations: Post frequently (two to three times a week); have a theme (a specific campaign, time frame, and tangible outcomes); use a suggested contribution amount; include visuals (photos, graphics and videos); and analyze your efforts using Facebook Page Insights.

Twitter: As of the third quarter of 2017, Twitter averaged 330 million monthly active users.3 While Twitter doesn’t have as many robust features as Facebook when it comes to soliciting donations for nonprofits, it can still be useful for raising awareness and engaging with potential supporters.

Use hashtags such as #nonprofit to help people connect with your organization. You can also use hashtags relevant to your organization’s mission — for example, #humanrights or #healthcare — but stick to two hashtags per tweet.

Be sure to follow other nonprofits and people with similar interests to your nonprofit’s mission; many (but not all) will follow you back. Ask your followers to retweet your tweets, and participate in larger campaigns and movements such as Giving Tuesday (see below for more information).

Instagram: Instagram users are mainly on mobile devices, using the app. As of September 2017, Instagram had reached 800 million monthly active users.4 Instagram tends to attract a younger audience, with 59 percent of online adults ages 18 to 29 using this social media platform.5 Those who use Instagram tend to check the site often (multiple times each day) and engage more with posts.6

Just as Facebook has Facebook Insights, Instagram offers Instagram for Business, which can provide analytics as well as a Contact button. Make sure the profile page for your organization’s Instagram account is complete and robust (including a compelling profile link). Although Instagram is heavy on photos and videos, the captions for the images also matter; captions can be up to 2,200 characters long. As on Twitter, you can use hashtags in Instagram to help people find your Instagram posts and connect with your organization via shared interests.

Other Social Media Platforms: Other popular social media platforms include LinkedIn (467 million members7), Snapchat (178 million users8), Pinterest (150 million users9), Tumblr, Google+, Reddit and WhatsApp. The benefits of each of these social media sites vary for your organization, depending on goals, needs and intended audience.

LinkedIn, for example, is a good resource for recruiting staff and board and networking professionally; longer-form posts and articles can be posted on LinkedIn, which attracts an older audience. Snapchat attracts a much younger audience and would be more appropriate for social media campaign aimed at a younger crowd.

Benefits and Best Practices
A robust social media presence can increase your online network and create the image that you are an accessible and modern nonprofit. Nonprofits can implement social media campaigns even on small budgets. Even modest equipment (such as entry-level DSLR cameras with video capability or smartphones with built-in video cameras and cameras) can yield terrific material for social media. And a finely crafted, true story about helping a cause can really be compelling.

Social media efforts can’t exist in a silo. They need to tie in to your organization's overall goals, messaging and branding. Create a social media strategy ahead of time, figuring out which platforms you’ll plan to use, and familiarize yourself with these platforms before engaging on them. Plan a mix of written content, photos and videos that you continue to update regularly.

Each social media post needs to engage users and include a strong call to action. You can create a social media calendar that will help you plan your social media campaigns and posts in advance. How often you post to social media will vary according to your organization’s capabilities (and if you have staff wholly or partly dedicated to managing social media), goals and other factors, but here are basic suggested guideline:

Facebook: 3 to 10 times per week
Twitter: at least 5 times a day
LinkedIn: 2 to 5 times per week
Google+: 3 to 10 times per week
Pinterest: 5 to 10 times per day
Source: Sprout Social

Launching a Social Media Campaign
There are many kinds of campaigns nonprofits can launch through social media: campaigns to drive awareness, update followers on your progress, hold contests or giveaways, share success stories or new initiatives and more. You can share “wish lists” for in-kind donations or create calls for volunteers or event attendees. And of course, you can hold online giving campaigns through social media.
Launching a Social Media Campaign
There are numerous apps and services available to help nonprofits hold online giving campaigns; you can also share links to your website and your existing donation form without having to use any expensive or complicated software or outside consultants. (See the chapter “The Anatomy of an Effective Form” for more information.)

Giving Tuesday
Giving Tuesday began in 2012, and was created by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y. It takes place each year on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Any nonprofit can participate in Giving Tuesday. Using the #GivingTuesday hashtag across social media platforms, organizations ask supporters to donate their money, time and passion for helping nonprofits achieve their goals. The Giving Tuesday website has plenty of information and ideas for nonprofits who want to participate in this global day of giving.

Case Studies: Top Nonprofits Using Social Media
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge, the social media sensation that went viral in 2014 and raised $4 million for the ALS Therapy Development Institute? This social media campaign was a huge hit — it was novel, fun and entertaining, plus it raised awareness and made people donate to an important cause. Although not every organization can create the next “Ice Bucket Challenge,” many nonprofits are regularly using social media with great success.

These are the top 10 nonprofits on social media (as of spring 2016):

1. National Geographic Society
2. TED Talks
3. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
4. National Public Radio (NPR)
5. Wikileaks
6. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
7. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
8. Museum of Modern Art
9. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
10. World Bank PNGO Project

For a full list of the top 100 nonprofits on social media, see

While your nonprofit may not have the budget or staff size of the National Geographic Society, you can still learn from the social media practices of successful nonprofits. It can take time to build a social media following, but persistence will pay off. Put your organization’s passion into its social media posts, and people will be sure to notice.

1 Statista, “Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 3rd quarter 2017 (in millions)”

3 Statista, “Number of monthly active Twitter users worldwide from 1st quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter 2017 (in millions)”

4 Statista, “Number of monthly active Instagram users from January 2013 to September 2017 (in millions)”

5 Pew Research Center, “Social Media Update 2016"

6 The Balance, “10 Secrets to Being Awesome on Instagram for Nonprofits”,

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