Social Media Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits

Jennifer Gmerek
July 1, 2014

Find out these best practices for nonprofit social media marketing.

According to Mashable, yesterday was Social Media Day (#SMDay) - a day to honor the digital revolution happening around the globe. Didn’t get the memo? We forgive you. But since we treat everyday like Social Media Day around here, we figured why not use the date to help launch our #SMDay mini-series of blogs this week dedicated to all things social.

Get ready to talk about your favorite social media sites, tricks, tools services and even a few pet peeves. But first, let’s cover a few best practices for nonprofits' digital marketing on social media.

Plan it Out

First, it’s important to create a plan. In fact, think about it more as a blueprint. “Begin with a strategy, not with the tools. Too many nonprofits begin with the tools when the tools should flow from the strategy, not the other way around.” says SocialBrite founder, J.D. Lasica.

In other words, once you know where you’re going, you can figure out what you’ll need in order to make it there.

Do you want to be seen as a reliable source for sharing powerful stories or giving breaking news updates? Your answer will help determine the best social media network for your organization.

But don’t just stop at the big picture - drill down into the day-to-day. Who is posting? How often? At what times? Use an editorial calendar to set expectations and coordinate your team.

Having a plan in mind will also make measuring your progress a lot easier. The world of data analytics and social media measurement may sound like a scary place, but the best rule of thumb is just to start small and start as soon as possible.

Be Productive

Use a social media dashboard, like HootSuite, which saves you time by letting you schedule tweets or Facebook status updates. Or check out a tool like to help your track your efforts.

But if any tool ever adds more stress to your day than it helps relieve, then drop it and move on. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do everything or play with every shiny new toy that comes along.

Choose Your Platform Wisely

When talking about choosing the right social media platform, our motto has become: You can’t possibly be on every network, so don’t even try.

It’s better for your organization to put more time and effort into a smaller number of sites that people will actually use, rather than have empty profiles. So we’ve done our best to narrow down a few helpful tips for you when choosing to join (or not) any social media site.

But the key to unlocking the potential of any new medium has always been - and will continue to be - knowing your audience. Research your target audience and find out as much as you can about them.

This will help you to know which platforms they use the most, what times they’re most active, what content is most relevant to them, and more.
Pay close attention to creating a consistent “voice” for your organization that will resonate with real people who fall into your key demographics.

Give your organization a human element and personality. People connect with other people, not with computers. Don’t hesitate to show appreciation and excitement.

Try this exercise - create a persona for your social media audience by answering these questions outlined by communications firm, Big Duck.
Once you’ve figured out your goals, audience and voice, now’s the time to pick the one or two sites that make the most sense and dive in!

Learn From Others

More than 4 billion people are using social media today, but instead of feeling like you’re the last one to the pool, learn from the mistakes of other organizations who’ve gone before you.

When creating your social media profiles, be conscious of what you are choosing for your name, profile picture, “about” section, and other introductory information or meta data. These are the first pieces of content that people will see when discovering your social media page.

Make sure they are all a good representation of your organization and what you stand for. The images you choose should be big, clear, and relevant.

Though now a bit dated, Nonprofit Tech for Good’s 10 Common Mistakes by Nonprofits on Social Media still has some good nuggets. (FYI, distorted avatar images is listed as mistake #1 - hint, hint!)

And we couldn’t let this moment pass without mentioning one of our biggest pet peeves that didn’t make the list. If you are managing profiles across multiple networks, do not rely on automating all your posts. All platforms are not created equal! They require different tones, timing and styles.

However, creating new content for each platform doesn’t need to be a time suck either - learn more about how to maximize your content creation.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk more about the types and styles of specific social media platforms.


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Make it “Spread-Worthy”

Social media is about getting your messages to spread widely and quickly. But getting people to share your content means engaging them where they’re at...not where you need them to be.

That means your content has to be not only relevant to your supporters, but something they will want to share with their friends and families. Author and Move On co-founder, John Hlinko, refers to this as making your content “spread-worthy."

Potential supporters and donors are out there, but getting them to choose your organization over the countless others available requires you to provide a compelling story behind your mission.

You want to keep readers excited and entertained. Try to keep content fresh and diversify what you’re saying; the same old content gets boring.

To get your posts shared, try to hit on at least one of these popular types of social media posts:

  • New/novel
  • Funny/entertaining
  • Controversial
  • Touching
  • Educational
  • Interactive (i.e. polling)

Engage and Stay Engaged

Once you’ve built up your social media following, make sure you’re keeping the conversation going. No one wants to lose a friend!

Why work so hard to cultivate a relationship if you’re not prepared to keep it going? Read our new report to help you figure out how to move your social media followers up the ladder of engagement.

Just remember - social media is a two-way street, so keep supporters engaged: facilitate a conversation, run a contest, indulge in some social listening, respond to posts, ask questions, etc. But be wary of over-posting; unnecessary spamming is a great way to ruin your online credibility.

Like everything else, it requires some trying and testing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes - try something one week, see how people react, adjust and try again.

Now go and be social!

And be sure to report back to tell us how it went. You can find us actively communicating on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+.

Top Social Media Platforms for Nonprofits

Got a Facebook page? Check. Are you tweeting? Yup. Do you have videos on YouTube? Sure. 
So, now what?

You’re ready to take that next, big leap into social networking by sharing your story with new audiences and in new ways. Need some suggestions for where to go next? 

Now, I must warn you - as tempting as it may be to join every shiny, new social network out there, you’ve got to exercise some control. 

Check out these social media best practices if you need a quick refresher. Managing social networks requires a lot of time, patience and energy - and that’s just the communicating part! Don’t forget you’ve also got to be a good social listener. Take a moment and think about how your organization is actually going to use social media, which audiences you are trying to reach, and how much time and money you are really willing to put into it.
Okay, reality check complete? Good. Now, let’s dive in.

First, we’ll start with a few gimmes - these are the social media sites that should rank pretty high on your “must visit” list. Then, we’ll travel further into early adopter territory to really test your courage.


The Scoop: Share updates, pictures, events, videos and animated gifs (yes!) with people in your “circles”. But here’s the real special sauce in Google+: it improves your SEO and gives your organization more exposure in Google search results.

Whatever you post on your Google+ page syncs with the Google search engine itself. In other words, the more you post content (and the more it’s shared), the higher your chances are the content will show up in Google’s search engine. On the surface, it’s a lot like Facebook, but dig a little deeper - there are some serious benefits to creating (and optimizing) your Google+ presence.

Audience: 25-35 year olds are the most active on Google+.

Time and Money: Since Google+ is similar to Facebook in many ways, your content strategyfor the two networks can also be fairly similar. Don’t be afraid to repurpose content, but do it in a smart way that won’t cheat (or bore) audiences that may be following you in both places. Whatever you share on one network, stagger the post dates on the other so the content is at least being pushed out at different intervals.

The only part that may require a bit more time is creating your circles. But getting your groups organized sooner than later will make connecting with others easier and will be worth it in the long run. And if you haven’t already, look into Google Grants that offers qualifying 501(c)3’s up to $10,000 a month to spend on Google ads. Or download this guide if you need help with the Google for Nonprofits application.


The Scoop: Share catchy pictures (and videos too!)

It’s a bit harder to get noticed on Instagram because your photos aren’t easily shared outside of your personal networks, but they are easily discoverable through the use of hashtags. The power of Instagram lies in community engagement, so it is important to build a loyal following. Cross-promoting your Instagram content on other social networks like Facebook or Twitter can help you do just  that.

Visual storytelling is essential. Use bold, vivid imagery to get noticed. With awesome filters that change the look and feel of your images, you can add a new dimension to your work and capture the attention of viewers. Instagram also allows users to create 3-15 second videos. (Want some tips on making powerful videos for your organization? Jump ahead to our review of Vine.)

Overall, you want to build on the instant connectivity of a network like Instagram. Give supporters more of an insiders look into your world. Consider posting “behind the scenes” pictures during an upcoming event to add a dose of exclusivity for your Instagram followers.

Audience: Instagram is quickly growing in popularity among teens and young adults, so think about how to cultivate your Millennial audience.

Time and Money: You can go crazy with Instagram and purchase all kinds of fancy applications to create cool effects and edit your pictures, but they aren’t necessary. In fact, it’s best to keep your pictures strong and simple.
Sponsored ads do appear on Instagram, but according to the site they’re “starting slow” with the roll out to find the right balance for advertisers and their community. So stay tuned for more opportunities in paid promotions (or if you prefer, just enjoy the lower volume of advertising noise for a while longer.)


The Scoop: Make connections with staff, volunteers, prospective employees, other organizations and professionals in your field. 

Ideal for professionals looking to network and gain deeper knowledge about topics in their field of interest, work or study. In-depth blogs, comprehensive research and other similar content is well-suited for a network like this.

Also check out LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace - a relatively new addition to the site to help nonprofits recruit qualified volunteers. 

Audience: LinkedIn’s audience is well-educated and often comes from higher income households, according to Pew Research.

Time and Money: LinkedIn may require a bit more time to manage if you tailor your content accordingly for this audience. But putting in the time can mean gaining some highly engaged and very loyal supporters. 
LinkedIn Ads work similar to boosting posts on Facebook - you set the budget and only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive. You can also target based on job title, job function, industry, geography, age, gender, company name, company size, or LinkedIn Group.


The Scoop: Scrapbook or “pin” photos and videos to boards to tell the story of your organization and the work you are doing.

Supporters, in turn, can “re-pin” the items they like to share with others in their personal networks. Remember: Pinterest is a social network, so just pinning your own content without re-pinning, liking or joining other conversations is not fully participating in the community. After all, nobody wants to talk to someone who only talks about themselves!

Audience: Pinterest is great if your audience is mostly women, as users are 83% female. And even though some of the most popular boards are dedicated to fashion trends and crafty how to’s, don’t feel you need to shy away from some of the harder hitting issues you may work on. Regardless of the issue, visual storytellingis once again, where it’s at.  Use strong imagery to tell your story and you can’t go wrong.

Time and Money: The key is to repurpose the visual content you’ve already created to maximize your time and impact on Pinterest.

As for paid advertising, the site recently started to roll out Promoted Pins, so there will likely be more opportunities to boost your brand's presence in the near future. 

While it doesn’t seem that Pinterest has specifically targeted nonprofit brands as of yet, they are testing a Google AdWords-like model which would enable almost anyone to bid and have their ads featured along search results.


The Scoop: A mobile app that connects users through video chatting, text messaging...and oh yeah, has helped usher in a whole new wave of ephemeral communication.

The mobile revolution isn’t coming... it’s already here. And organizations must look beyond the right now in order to stay relevant in the years to come. Snapchat offers an interesting opportunity to break out of your box in a big way.

“Stories” is a feature which enables brands to build and string together a narrative over the course of a day. Stories can be viewed as many times before the 24 hours is up and then they disappear...vanish...poof...adios! Seriously.

It should be no surprise that 13-year-olds were among the first to catch on the novelty here. To ride the Snapchat wave, you’ve got to embrace the fun of it all. We know humor works and is essential in creating powerful and memorable campaigns. Get creative and send Snaps of your own as reminders and updates or to leak behind-the-scene footage (at fundraisers, events, dinners), and a sneak peek of some of your speakers at events, new swag, etc.

Need a bit more inspiration? Check out this great story and interview about how is embracing Snapchat.

Audience: Snapchat’s audience is on the younger side, about ages 13-25.

Time and Money: Snapchat is a free app, but it will take a fair amount of time to maintain. Make sure you have a strong mobile strategy and staff resources in place before tackling a project like this one.


The Scoop: Create and post short (6 seconds - yikes!) video clips that run on an endless loop.
These videos can either be one clip, or a string of clips put together to add up to a multi-part story (yes, still in 6 seconds flat). 

Use Vine to tell potential supporters what your nonprofit does in a very straight-forward, promotional way - show off your service, volunteers, products, etc. Or what better to motivate people than by capturing those ultimate moments of gratification related to your mission - chanting during a rally; runners crossing the finish line after a 5K fundraiser; welcoming a group of excited volunteers; rescuing homeless animals; kids receiving books from a book drive  - that will replay over and over and over again until the end of time.

Still not convinced that you can tell a powerful story in 6 seconds or less? Instagram Video lets you record video for up to a jaw-dropping 15 seconds!

Audience: Again, the millennials have it - usually between the ages of 17 and 30. But as both video and mobile technology continue to improve, sites such as Vine will grow in popularity.

Time and Money: Again, Vine doesn’t cost any money to purchase the application, but it does require a good amount of time to maintain it. Vine videos take thought and planning, as well as staff resources and skill to execute them.


The Scoop: Medium is a new place on the Internet where people can share ideas and stories in blog format. Sound a little too “been there, done that”? Hold on.

Medium is a community for writers...or storytellers, if you will. So, no blanket solicitations please. Instead, focus on sharing your raw and real stories about your quest to make the world a better place.

The site combines a clean layout, high-quality banner imagery, an even a higher bar for quality storytelling, and a deeply engaged community to turn this space into an ideal “medium” for sharing powerful mission-focused stories about empowering communities, overcoming challenges and achieving success. (I suspect you know a few stories like this.)

Audience: Passionate. You’ll prosper in this writer-focused community if you stay true to the power of words.

Time and Money: One of Medium’s founders (formerly chief executive of Twitter) recently had this to say "Right now, the Internet rewards speed and quantity, and we wanted to make a place where quality matters.” 

So you may want to factor in a bit of extra time here if you really want to get the most out of it. But if you have some savvy writer/blogger types already on staff and able to craft good, quality content, then perhaps its worth funneling their efforts into becoming early adopters of this new Medium.

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Social Media Tips for Beginners

Chances are you’re one of the 73% of people 18 and older who use social media sites in their personal lives. And you may be a part of the ever-growing wave of nonprofits that incorporate these various networks into your organizational websites as well. But are you taking full advantage of social media for your fundraising campaigns? And are you doing it effectively?

First thing’s first - social media is a hard nut to crack for any fundraiser, typically for reasons such as these:

  • You have to build your social media audience before you can even consider asking them to donate
  • You have very little control over the look, feel and overall user experience on many of these platforms
  • Getting social media fans onto your email list can require a bit more effort 
  • When supporters are actually ready to donate, you can’t collect money directly on the site
  • Finally, sending supporters to an external donation page risks losing interest; it requires lots and lots of testing to make sure you’re capturing the highest rate of conversions possible

But if you do it right, successful social media fundraising means harnessing the potential of networks that you could not tap otherwise. So while these barriers are certainly frustrating, the benefits of successful fundraising on social media far outweigh the negatives. 

Here are 8 tips to keep in mind when starting out with creating a social media fundraising campaign:

1) There are so many different social media channels; utilize the ones that work for you. Choosing the right social network begins with identifying your target audience and fundraising goals. But also think about which network falls most in-line with the way your organization naturally communicates. Does your organization have lots of updates or rapidly evolving work happening on-the-ground throughout the day? Maybe Twitter is a good fit for your nonprofit. Or if you work with lots of compelling people who are willing and able to articulate powerful, personal stories, maybe creating YouTube videos is a good place to start. 

Each social media network has its own language and the more the flow and pace of your organization matches your chosen social network, the more likely you’ll be able to start and grow it over time. 

And take on one new social network at a time - get comfortable with it before moving on to the next. And keep in mind that you can’t just copy and paste what you wrote on one platform directly to the other. Customize messages for each platform, the way you would for different target audiences. 

2) Be willing to experiment. Try posting news releases one day and switching to something lighter hearted the next. The goal is to try new things until you figure out what balance triggers the most meaningful conversation with your target audience. 

Also find creative ways to engage your supporters - consider social media events like #GivingTuesday as an opportunity to grow your fan base. For example, try hosting a contest to see who can raise the most money. The contest will get more people engaging with your organization and if you ask them to share/retweet your content as part of the contest that will create more reach for you. Plus people love the competitive nature and winning free stuff!

3) Make sure you’re telling your story. Use your platforms to let supporters know what you’re doing and why. Be creative - make a YouTube or Vine video of your fundraising efforts, or Instagram a picture of your volunteers or the people you are helping. Also tell supporters exactly where their donation will be going and what it will be doing (i.e. Your $50 contribution will feed a child dinner for 7 nights). Let them know that their money is going to good use.

4) Make your posts sharable, and encourage people to share them. Make them interesting and relevant enough that people want to share them with their friends. A good question to ask yourself: Would you share this with your group of friends? Why or why not?

Your supporters don’t have to share your content, but you can do your best to make sure they want to. Reach out to social media influencers so they can share it with their followers. Get the word out about your cause to as many people as possible. The larger the reach, the better!

5) Social media is a two-way street. Make sure to continually engage with people by commenting back, answering questions, tweeting at people, etc. And once supporters have made a donation, don’t forget to thank them! Remember your donors as well as partners, volunteers, and influencers. It’s so easy to do on social media with just a simple shout out, and it makes the world of a difference.

6) Be consistent with your brand. Have a brand image, repeatable phrase/quote and hashtag to go along with your posts. You want people to be able to recognize your brand and cause and also be able to search for it.

7) The most important thing you NEED in your fundraising on social media is a call to action. The more timely, the better! Give supporters a strong reason to donate now and not click away. 

8) Create urgency in your fundraising posts. Social media is all about the present, and if you can’t capture attention right now, then you may have already missed your opportunity. Emphasize why donations are necessary. Share real-time updates of the progress of your campaign and invite supporters to help you reach your goal.

If you want to unlock more online marketing and supporter engagement, check out these additional resources:

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