Nonprofit Social Media Strategy: How to Implement a Plan and Measure Success

Do you engage with your community through social media? Does your organization have a social media strategy in place to maximize your return on investment? Many nonprofits have a social media presence, but few have an actionable strategy in place to direct and measure outcomes. So, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for implementing an achievable nonprofit social media strategy, even if you’re short on time. We’ll cover how to set specific goals, the methods that’ll increase engagement, and measurement tools to track social media success.

How Do Nonprofit Organizations Benefit from a Social Media Strategy?

Having a social media presence can drive growth and even increase your program’s return on investment. Fundamentally, social media acts as marketing for nonprofit organizations. It can supplement email outreach, fundraising events, and other advertising. By implementing social media effectively, nonprofits can gain exposure, increase fundraising efforts and recruit potential volunteers, and even drive social change. In what ways, specifically, do nonprofits use social media? Here are the top five reasons nonprofits employ social media:

  1. To share news about their organization
  2. To drive brand recognition
  3. To share news about a specific cause
  4. To fundraise
  5. To recruit volunteers

Businesses and nonprofits like social media because of its wide reach, trackable impact, and affordability. No matter how small or large your organization, you can boost donations and engage the next generation of volunteers by developing a sustainable nonprofit social media strategy.

The Importance of Developing a Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

It can be tempting to forgo a social media strategy and post on a more ad-hoc basis, like we do in our personal lives. With limited resources and personnel, it’s no wonder a social media strategy falls by the wayside for many. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone! 67% of nonprofits don’t have a documented social media strategy, and less than half of nonprofits using social media are measuring their results. Yet nonprofits are acknowledging the inevitable role social media plays in supporting volunteer programs.

In fact, 50% of nonprofits believe social media is very valuable and another 35% believe social media is moderately valuable. What’s more, less than 5% of nonprofits surveyed believe that social media has no value to them. We know that social media can greatly benefit businesses and nonprofits alike, but in order for social media efforts to be worthwhile, it’s important to implement a strategy that outlines goals, plans, and success tracking. Without a written nonprofit social media strategy or plan, it can be difficult to understand how social media is impacting your program.

Typically, social media is one component of a more comprehensive nonprofit marketing plan. If your organization already has a marketing strategy in place, put aside some extra time to outline a social media plan for your nonprofit. Below, we’re covering everything you need to know about how to develop a nonprofit social media strategy and measure its success.

How to Create a Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

Below, we detail social media strategies for nonprofits to help propel your organization’s mission, increase volunteerism and boost donations.

Define Your Goals

Your nonprofit probably has a central goal that governs its operation, and you’re likely to keep this mission in mind as you plan events, organize corporate partnerships, and draft campaigns. If you want a successful, targeted nonprofit social media strategy, you’ll need to treat your correspondence the same way as your mission statement. Just as your organization’s goals drive your mission statement, specific goals should drive your social media posts. Not sure what those goals are? Here are the top six social media outcomes for nonprofits:

  1. Drive website traffic
  2. Foster deeper community engagement
  3. Recruit more volunteers
  4. Acquire and retain donors
  5. Cultivate brand awareness
  6. Establish thought leadership

When you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish using social media, you can better direct the types of content you will post. It’s important to note that 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.

Brainstorm Together

Remember that public-facing media will represent the entirety of your organization, its voice, and its brand. Therefore, it’s best practice to involve staff and stakeholders, representing a variety of voices, to formulate objectives and strategy.

Develop Metrics

Much like identifying the goal of your post, you should set benchmarks that define a successful campaign. Metrics may include:

  • Increased newsletter opt-ins
  • More event participants
  • New volunteer registration
  • Surge in website traffic
  • Number of followers, likes, or fans

A few rules of thumb for measuring progress:

  • Metrics should align with your goals. Your metrics should directly link to your goals. For example, if your goal is to drive website traffic, you’ll want to measure the number of website visits after posting on social media and linking to your web page.
  • Your metrics should be quantifiable, so that you can gather concrete evidence to further guide your nonprofit social media strategy.
  • Pay attention to timing. Did you notice the number of newsletter opt-ins surge in the week following your Facebook post? You’ll want to record and compare metrics within the days and weeks before and after posting on social media, so you can accurately attribute change with your social media efforts. You’ll also be able to adjust your strategy based on the types of content that’s working.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Progress can take time. Don’t worry if you’re not seeing instantaneous results. It may take some time to build up a following. Just keep posting and continuously evaluating your content for what’s working.

Record your metrics using a spreadsheet, with data entry points such as start date, entry data, number of email subscribers, followers, likes etc. Google Analytics is also a great (and free) tool to measure social media website referrals, which will track and report on how volunteers are finding your website (i.e. through Facebook, Google search).

Nonprofit Social Media Strategy Template

You can use this spreadsheet template as a guide for developing a nonprofit social media strategy and metrics for measuring your organization’s social media impact.

Formulate a Social Media Policy for Nonprofits

The internet, social media in particular, is a complicated place. So it’s important to establish a social media policy for nonprofit organizations that advises staff and volunteers on how to use the designated social media channels, and to safeguard against inappropriate behavior online. Organizations may choose to conduct training for staff, interns, and volunteers on social media usage and strategy. Documented policy and guidelines should therefore inform social media training for nonprofits.

Nonprofit Social Media Policy Template

Use this non profit social media policy template to guide a set of policies and guidelines that work for your organization’s needs.

Choose the Right Channel

There are a lot of social media channels out there. So how do nonprofits choose the right one? Diversifying your social media presence is generally a good idea, however some nonprofits don’t have the time and resources to maintain numerous platforms. To start, choose one or two channels to focus on. If you find you’re managing well, feel free to branch out! Sometimes, organizations will post the same content on multiple channels, to reach a wider audience. This is an efficient way to employ multiple social media accounts without overwhelming staff. Which channel is the right one for your organization? Review these social media tips to help you choose:

  1. Consider where your volunteers are: This may require a bit of research. You can get a relatively accurate sense of where your supporters and prospects are based on their demographics. In other words, an individual’s age tends (but does not guarantee) to dictate where they spend time online. Below, we break down the top 5 platforms that nonprofits prefer, and their popularity based on key demographics.
  2. Survey your supporters: If you want to find out how your supporters want to reach you, just ask! Create an onboarding volunteer survey to gather reliable data on the types of social media they use.
  3. Do more research: What are affiliates and similar organizations using? What types of content are they posting? What posts and interactions are successful (based on followers, likes, fans, etc.)?

Which social media channels do nonprofits tend to prefer? Here are the top 5, according to this study:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Youtube
  5. Instagram

Let’s break down the benefits and drawbacks of each of these channels, so that your organization can make a more informed decision. Each platform offers best practices and  resources on how to use social media for nonprofits; so, be sure to check out the links provided below for specific ways nonprofits can use these tools to boost their marketing efforts.

Facebook

98% of nonprofits surveyed use Facebook. Facebook is easy to use and has a broad reach–the platform sees 2 billion active users each month and engages the widest demographic of all top social media platforms out there. The company even provides a dedicated platform just for nonprofits. So, if you’re short on time and can only choose one option, Facebook is a smart bet.

Twitter

Twitter is popular among under-30s. If you’re trying to engage younger volunteers, Twitter is a great option. In fact, it’s the second most popular platform among nonprofits. They also provide resources specifically for nonprofits. Twitter is a fast-paced platform and content must be kept concise (due to the platform’s 280-character post limit). Twitter is also responsible for its share of viral content; it’s a platform for delivering snappy statements, developing your organization’s “voice,” and supporting efficient interactions with your supporters. Because the “Twittersphere” has a short attention span, we don’t recommend your organization relies solely on Twitter to deliver need-to-know information to your volunteers.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional networking tool trusted by businesses, nonprofits, employees, and professionals alike. It’s effective for business-to-business communication, and is a great choice if your organization is looking to strengthen partnerships with universities, local businesses, their employees, and other nonprofits. LinkedIn is also popular among recent graduates and high-income earners. So if your goal is to attract skilled professional volunteers and interns, take advantage of LinkedIn. Not only can you use LinkedIn to source volunteers, interns and employees, the platform also features a post thread, great for sharing content like links, videos, thought-leadership articles, calls to action, and other valuable resources that will engage a professional audience.

Learn more about LinkedIn for Nonprofits.

Instagram

Instagram is a Millennial and Gen Z favorite. It’s a visual platform (every post must feature an image) and therefore highly engaging. Instagram is a great tool for announcing initiatives, calling for volunteers, and sharing event photos. If you decide to use Instagram, you will want to dedicate more time creating your posts and choosing the right image, as you’re competing to attract the attention of casual scrollers. Instagram users and businesses alike spend significant energy trying to create a visual aesthetic that will engage and inspire followers.

Instead of thinking about your nonprofit’s “voice” (the words you share), you’ll want to consider your nonprofit’s “image” (the types of pictures and images that represent your organization and engage your desired audience). When used effectively, Instagram can bolster positive brand recognition, loyal followers, and shareable content. So if you’re trying to support youth volunteerism and engage the next generation–and you have the time–include Instagram in your nonprofit social media strategy. Note: Like Facebook, Instagram offers a fundraising tool for nonprofits.

Build a Schedule

Most marketing and social media professionals use a calendar or schedule to plan their posts ahead of time. Social media is most effective when updated regularly. Creating a schedule will ensure you’re posting often enough and switching up your content to maintain engagement.

How often should you post?

60% of nonprofits post on social media between 0 and 3 times per week, and 21% of nonprofits post between 4-10 days per week. To keep your supporters engaged, shoot to post a minimum of once per week.

How much time per week should you spend on social media?

38% of nonprofits spend 1-2 hours per week managing their social media accounts. Around 30% spend 3-5 hours managing their social media accounts. Nearly half of nonprofits using social media have only one person (staff or volunteer) monitoring social media, which many most organizations are operating on limited bandwidth. Assess your capability and goals, keeping in mind where social media fits in to your overall nonprofit marketing plan.

Social Media Content Calendar Template

This social media content calendar template will simplify social media management for nonprofits.

Create Engaging Content

A social media strategy for nonprofits should center around engagement to increase their traffic and volunteerism. Therefore, your content should be varied and interesting, while upholding your nonprofit’s social media goals. What kinds of content should your organization post? Keep reading for plenty of social media ideas for nonprofits:

Visuals

According to this study, internet users are drawn to visuals, and the social media community responds well to images. You’ll generate 94% more post views by adding compelling visual content, so consider incorporating visual storytelling into your nonprofit’s social media nonprofit strategy.

But you’re not limited to photos. Switch up your visuals to include photos, infographics, videos, and other images to keep your channel interesting. Free design tools like Canva are a great resource for creating infographics, ads, logos and more. Here are some examples of visuals you can share in your next social media post:

  • Photos of happy volunteers participating in an initiative
  • Digital poster or image announcing your next big event
  • Video montage of volunteers sharing what they love about working with your organization
  • Video from community members affected by your program
  • Inspirational quote in an artful font

Interactive Content

Engage supporters by sharing content they can interact with. Most social media platforms have a fun way of creating interactive content, such as:

  • Twitter polls
  • Instagram stories Q&A video
  • Facebook surveys

Additionally, embedded in your posts, and in your profile, link to your organization’s website. Link to different pages on your website, like volunteer sign-up pages, event pages, or your “About Us” page. The more traffic your website sees, the more likely your organization is to show up on the first page of Google’s search results.

Share, Repost, Retweet

When it comes to nonprofits and social media, we understand that it may seem implausible to consistently produce new content several times per week. While a majority of your content should be original (and directly related to your organization’s mission), you may choose to occasionally share, “repost,” or “retweet” content created by others. For instance, you may come across an inspiring news story that you think your supporters need to know about, a photo of an adorable animal, or a post from a community partner that you want to endorse. Most social media platforms have a function to share another user’s content. Just make sure you tag the account, ask permission when appropriate, and link to their profile or page.

Social Media Campaign Ideas for Nonprofits

One way to create lasting engagement is to develop a nonprofit social media campaign, consisting of a series of related posts over a set amount of time. Sometimes it helps to study other successful nonprofit social media campaigns. These nonprofits are #CrushingIt on social media:

  • 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. 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, don’t think of Pinterest as a means of engaging our communities. However, 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 Pinterest 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.
  • 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. Their social media channels are filled with community outreach ideas for nonprofit. 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. Oceana teaches us that pictures are your friend.

Need more inspiration? Check out these organizations that have developed successful social media campaigns for nonprofits.

Join the Conversation

According to Chara Odhner of Charity: Water, “social media is designed for two-way conversation and that’s when it’s most powerful.” Your job isn’t finished after you’ve uploaded this week’s post. It’s important to engage back with our followers and fans. It’ll build “brand loyalty” and show that you’re listening to what your supporters have to say. Many volunteers use social media channels to ask questions, express interest and share their opinions. Set aside time in your social media calendar to answer questions and respond to comments. 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

Further, positive feedback and reviews lead to social validation, a psychological phenomenon that businesses use to their advantage. In the business world, people are more likely to purchase a product when it’s accompanied by positive reviews or endorsed by a trusted individual (celebrity, product expert, etc.). The phenomenon can work for nonprofits, too. Social validation fosters trust in your organization. In other words, if others see volunteers having a positive experience with your organization, they’re more likely to support your mission too. You can encourage positive feedback by allowing for comments on your social media channels (comments will be turned on in most platforms’ default settings), asking for feedback, and encouraging friends and fans to share your posts. Remember, positive feedback stems from a positive experience.

When should you respond to comments and messages? When should you not?

The internet can foster understanding, but it can also encourage misinformation and hate. If you receive a positive comment, take the time to thank your supporter by name. Did you receive a negative comment or suggestion? Don’t panic and avoid resorting to defensiveness. People tend to be emboldened by the internet’s sense of anonymity. So take the following steps to deescalate a dissatisfied user:

  1. Assess whether the comment is constructive. Is the user expressing a legitimate criticism or concern? Are they offering constructive solutions? If so:
  2. Calmly thank the user for their input.
  3. Let them know you will consider their feedback, or invite them to continue the conversation through the platform’s private messaging tool (if you choose to engage).
  4. Most importantly, if the comment is in any way offensive or hateful, it should be removed and flagged or reported as soon as possible. Every social media platform will have a method of reporting offensive content.

Social media for nonprofits; it’s worth the effort to grow your program, but we all must do our due diligence to make the internet a safer place.

Evaluate Your Progress

Once you’ve established a social media presence and recorded some metrics, evaluate your progress. Where are you in achieving your goals? Engagement is an ongoing process that takes time, but you’ll benefit from:

  • checking in on your metrics (# of friends, fans, etc.)
  • identifying the types of content that’s working and not working
  • reviewing processes and policies as needed.
  • realigning with your goals

Social Media Analytics Template

Use this non profit social media analytics template to record key metrics and record your progress. 

It’s probably apparent by now, your non-profit social media strategy is an essential component of strategic marketing for nonprofit organizations.  So let’s get posting!