Crafting a Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

It’s no secret that nonprofits are often challenged by the idea of social media marketing. With limited resources and personnel, nonprofits can easily fall into the habit of neglecting their social media accounts. Many organizations have no documented strategy at all.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone! In 2014, the Case Foundation joined forces with Social Media for Nonprofits to better understand how nonprofits were using social media to engage their online communities. Their survey found that half of respondents have only one person managing their social media. For the remaining 50%, one quarter of the organizations have a social media team, while the other quarter is just winging it online.

Social media is growing 3x faster than email, which means it’s a huge mistake to neglect your online presence. We know that implementing an effective social media strategy sounds daunting, so we’ve put together some clear and simple steps that will save you time and give you a solid head start in 2017. We’ll cover how to set specific goals, the methods that’ll increase engagement and volunteerism, and how to measure your future social-media successes. Let’s get started!

Define your goal

Your nonprofit probably has a central goal that governs its operation. For example, you may be involved in finding permanent housing for homeless individuals, providing educational resources to an underserved community, or locating affordable healthcare for the elderly. You likely keep this mission in mind as you plan events, organize corporate partnerships, and draft campaigns.

If you want a successful, targeted social media strategy, you’ll need to treat your correspondence the same way as you do your mission statement. Just as your organization’s goals drive your mission statement, your communication goals should drive your social-media posts. Not sure what those goals are? Here are five communication targets that are important in the nonprofit sector:

  • Engaging community
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Acquiring and retaining donors
  • Cultivating brand awareness
  • Establishing thought leadership

When you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish, create and post content that will help you achieve your aims. It’s important to note that you don’t have to be one thing all the time—your goals may shift over the course of the week, month, or year. Regardless of your current strategy, just make sure that you keep your endgame in mind while posting. If you do this, your content will be more targeted and you’ll get better results.

Focus on engagement

Unfortunately, many nonprofits stop at posting content. Nonprofit communication managers should abandon the idea that social media is only a publishing platform. Rather, nonprofits must think of social media as an engagement platform if they want to increase their traffic and volunteerism. As Chara Odhner of Charity: Water says, “social media is designed for two-way conversation and that’s when it’s most powerful.”

Because nonprofits tend to have limited time to devote to social media, engagement should be your top priority. People like a human presence online, so don’t be afraid to cultivate a personable or humorous voice on social media outlets. Here are some other ideas that will boost engagement in your online community:

  • Respond to questions and comments per your social media policy
  • Say thank you when someone shares or retweets your content
  • Reach out to your top donors using these strategies
  • Look for new conversations to join and people to engage with who are from similar fields

Measure your success

Much like identifying the goal of your post, you should set benchmarks that define a successful campaign. For example, you can monitor newsletter subscriptions, website traffic, post engagement (“likes” and “shares”) and donations. If you use a CRM like Salesforce, you may choose to track email open rates and click-through rates. You can find benchmarks by type of nonprofit organization in this study from M+R Benchmarks.

With clear benchmarks, you can chart your successes (and failures) over time. Create a spreadsheet and keep track of the data you’ve chosen to measure. You’ll notice trends in  the kinds of content that your audience likes and dislikes. After reviewing your impact, tweak your messaging or content for better results.

Another good idea is to sign up for a free Google Analytics account. This can help you measure where your website visitors are coming from. This article does a great job breaking down how nonprofits can benefit from Google Analytics.

Nonprofits who are #CrushingIt on social media

Sometimes it helps to study what has made other nonprofits successful on social media. We recommend following a few of these organizations on their social media channels:

  • Project Aware/ #DiveAgainstDebris

    On Twitter, Project Aware identifies themselves as “a global force of divers mobilizing to protect our ocean in more than 180 countries and territories.” With over 34k followers on Twitter alone, this nonprofit is doing a great job on social media. They owe their success, in part, to the captivating images and videos they share of the ocean and their volunteer divers.
    The takeaway:
    Volunteers are the bread and butter of your organization. Share their efforts and accomplishments on social media. By visually thanking their efforts, they’ll feel appreciated and will be more likely to volunteer in the future.

  • UNICEF/ Ami Musa

    This organization stands out because they did something a little different with social media. Typically, we think of Pinterest as a means of visually hoarding our most materialistic desires. Boards are often filled with recipes, high-end fashion, and home decor ideas. UNICEF did something really unique when they used Pinterest to create a fictional profile for Ami Musa, a 13 year old from Sierra Leone. Ami has difficulty securing the basic necessities after her parent’s death. Her board is filled with visuals of clean drinking water, food, soap, and shoes. UNICEF created this profile to reinforce the human aspect of child poverty. Each pin links back to a donation page on UNICEF’s website.
    The takeaway:
    Don’t be afraid to take a risk and try something unique on social media. It might just be the next viral nonprofit campaign.

  • Oceana

    Oceana is another nonprofit who campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. They fight against offshore drilling, pollution, and destructive fishing practices, while protecting the ocean’s sea life. On Facebook and Instagram, they’ve launched a largely visual campaign to support their cause. Their social media team cultivates a nice visual rhythm by sharing photos of adorable animals, juxtaposed with heart sinking pictures of sea creature abuse. This works to create solidarity in the viewer to protect the ocean.
    The takeaway:
    Pictures are your friend. You’ll generate 94% more post views by adding compelling visual content, so consider incorporating visual storytelling into your nonprofit’s social media approach.


If you’ve read this far, it’s because you know your nonprofit should amp up your online efforts. That’s great! You’ve taken the first step. Just remember to post regularly and conscientiously, and the rest will follow. If you want more helpful tips and tricks for nonprofits, like us on Facebook or Twitter and join the conversation.


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