Have your organization’s social media platforms gone radio silent since the intern left? Welcome to the world of social media strategy for nonprofits where the struggle to post consistently is real. Nonprofits rely on an army of volunteers and don’t always have the financial bandwidth to staff an office. This bootstrapped approach means social media marketing for nonprofits can become an afterthought.
Like gardens, social media channels languish unattended. Following the social media best practices for nonprofits listed below is a great place to start building a social media nonprofit marketing strategy or to revive an existing one. In each tip, you’ll find insight on how to use social media for nonprofits from social media managers and CEOs who know what it takes to engage successfully.
7 tips on running social media for nonprofits
1. Go where your audience is
You can’t be all things to all people. Part of a successful social media strategy for nonprofits is to think about where your audience is spending time. Focus your efforts on the social media platforms that potential donors are most likely to use either personally or professionally.
Whether it’s the eye candy on Instagram or the younger crowd on TikTok, focus on the platform your audience calls home. And keep in mind it might not be Facebook.
“I think nonprofits benefit from being on LinkedIn so that they can be found easily. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online rolodex — it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
2. Post with a purpose
Starting with the purpose in mind is a key part of social media best practices for nonprofits. If your timeline hasn’t seen much action in a while, posting a flurry of updates won’t produce engagement. Instead, develop a strategy for each platform that considers how your content can have the most impact.
Think carefully not just about social media best practices for nonprofits but also about your organization’s goals. What do you want to accomplish? Get specific. If the purpose of your social media strategy is to gain more followers, connect to your why. There’s a reason that’s important to social media marketing for nonprofits. Consider what success looks like, whether that’s increases in nonprofit fundraising or recruiting more volunteers.
3. Get consistent across channels
In social media, consistency is about more than posting at the same time every day. Cracking the formula for how to use social media for nonprofits requires both the right amount of engagement and keeping content streamlined across different channels. It’s about frequency, timing, and a dash of experimentation to determine what works for you and your audience.
If that sounds a little daunting, don’t despair. Julia Sellers from Thirty Press, a communications consultancy for nonprofits, advises falling back on the 80/20 rule, which is one of several social media best practices for nonprofits.
“Posts should follow the 80/20 rule. 80% education and inspiration versus 20% hard asks for donations. Nonprofits do not have to be on every social platform. Evaluate your target market and get really strong at being present on the one or two platforms where that market intersects.”
4. Find an authentic voice
It can be tempting if you have the financial bandwidth to outsource social media management, but that can be tricky for nonprofits. Social media strategy for nonprofits relies on connecting to the passion people have for a particular cause and turning it into action.
As Magie Stevens from Lets All Do Good advises, it’s crucial to find an authentic voice and to use it in your social media marketing for nonprofits.
“Having both in-house and agency experience, my advice on running social for a nonprofit is to not outsource it. It seems to be one of the first things marketing departments look to give to an agency to take over, and it doesn't work. For organic social to resonate, it needs to be authentic, agile, and timely. It requires someone who knows the industry, the organization, the mission, and the audience — all pieces of the puzzle that an agency cannot bring to the table.”
5. Make it emotional
Hitting the jackpot with viral content is peak success in social media for nonprofits, but research indicates it’s less a matter of luck and more about well-crafted, highly emotional content.
And contrary to expectations about how to use social media for nonprofits, the content doesn’t have to be relentlessly upbeat. While it might not seem out of the playbook for social media best practices for nonprofits, anger can actually drive viral content with outrage clicks.
“One important point is nonprofits need to tap into high-arousal emotions. We learned this in Jonah Berger's book, Contagious. That means not posting sad, demoralizing, or bland informational content. Instead, try to inspire awe, inspiration, excitement, or even anger.”
Allison Mahoney, Estorie Agency
6. Make it visual
While it can depend on the platform, dynamic visuals remain one of the most vital aspects of successful social media marketing for nonprofits. Infographics, photographs, and videos are the staples of social media posts for a reason.
However, as the CEO of nonprofit Cancer Kids First, Olivia Zhang, explains, viral videos are no accident. Incorporating viral videos into your social media strategy for nonprofits requires paying careful attention to a platform’s algorithms and users to determine the best framing, timing, and topics.
“TikTok has become extremely popular during the pandemic, and nonprofits can use this new audience to their advantage. Before launching our official account, I did in-depth research on the best ways to go viral. I studied TikTok algorithms and watched countless videos with titles such as "How to Go Viral on TikTok in Under a Week" or "Knowing When and What to Post on TikTok to Gain Views." I even created a schedule of the best days to post — Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays — and the best times.”
7. Engage, engage, engage
Instead of thinking of social media as a bullhorn for your nonprofit’s mission, consider it a channel for conversation with a community of users. The best advice for how to use social media for nonprofits boils down to focusing on forging relationships with followers. And like any relationship, you have to invest the time and engage.
Social media best practices for nonprofits include asking your audience what they think through surveys, polls, and feedback. Get into the comments regularly. Listen carefully. While your ultimate goal may be to recruit volunteers or gain donors, you’re also raising awareness and creating a community that’ll rally your cause.
Social media marketing for nonprofits can be a powerful tool to expand your donor base and fundraise. But your channels require a social media marketing strategy for nonprofits that focuses on consistency and platform- and audience-specific insights that maximize your organization’s impact.
Learn more about social media for nonprofits, including how to amplify your mission with our free nonprofit messaging guide.