Written by Benjamin Bowles
Non-profit people, we see you out there doing good, helping your communities. And we want to help you reach more people and gain support for your cause on social media. We’ve managed a lot of social media for nonprofits, so we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. We hope our tried and true list of dos and don’ts helps you make simple yet effective tweaks to the ways you post online.
Repeat your mission statement too often
One mistake we see often in social media for nonprofits is the over-repetition of a mission statement. Remember that a mission statement’s purpose is to guide the work that you do. It’s much more meaningful as an internal source of inspiration than it is as a tool for firing up your online audience. If you’re using it in every post, it quickly starts to feel boring and artificial, like being on an email chain where each message starts with “greetings,” “greetings,” “greetings…”
Show your audience how you’re living up to your mission statement
Instead of telling your online followers what you stand for in post after post, show them what you’re doing instead. Giving them frequent updates on the good you’re doing will go further in building support than repeating the same set of official sounding promises. Save your mission statement for your “about us” section.
Cute photo. I guess you visited a school?
Cute photo. Oh look, they went to my neighbor’s kids’ best friend’s cousin’s school. That’s pretty cool they give free toys to kids!
Assume your audience is familiar with everything you do
A whole set of problems pops up in social media for nonprofits when the person posting isn’t thinking from their audience’s perspective. For example, say you started marketing for the nonprofit Save the Unicorns (I mean, we’d be on board). The nonprofit name makes it clear that you’re dedicated to preserving the lives of magical one-horned horses. But you have four service programs: Help the Hornless, Mythical Beginnings, Rainbow Rehabilitation, and Unipals.
All of these programs may do great work but just because they’re in capital letters, doesn’t mean people will understand what they mean. Nonprofits often confuse followers by posting about programs with no explanation for what the program is or how it fits into your work.
This problem can also show up when posting industry jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms.
Thoroughly explain what you’re talking about
Every post should be made with your audience in mind. Posting about your program Mythical Beginnings? Make sure to explain that it’s an afterschool program where young humans read books to baby unicorns.
Same with any jargon, buzzwords, or acronyms. Always pause to ask yourself if your audience has the context to understand what you’re talking about. And if not, briefly explain.
Is it the name of a program? Was it just a great day? Did something new begin? Who knows!
Oh, it’s an after-school program. Oh! And they helped Saddlebridge Elementary students, my niece goes there! She loves to color!
Ask for donations in every post
This is a big one with social media for nonprofits. When you’re in dire need of funds, it’s tempting to keep asking. But the fact is, online donations aren’t really a faucet that can be turned on and off (we know you know this better than anyone!). And posting too many asks, especially when attached to heart wrenching stories, can lead to compassion fatigue.
Plan strategic funding campaigns
Instead of constantly or sporadically posting donation requests, plan out strategic social media campaigns before fundraising seasons or in response to emergencies. A campaign is different from regular posting. It’s a planned series of post with a specific goal. This works great for fundraising but it can also help you get more likes of Facebook, get more sign-ups to your email newsletter, or get people to buy tickets to an upcoming event.
When done right, it accomplishes your goals and then ends before audience fatigue starts to set in. Learning to put together a great social media campaign should be part of every nonprofit social media strategy.
Post photos with confusing or unmatched captions
Just like industry vocabulary or program names, your audience doesn’t always have the context to understand your images. Say you post a photo of a recently rescued unicorn with the caption “Tragic.” You might understand that this unicorn lost its horn when children stopped believing in him. But to your followers, it’s just a horse.
On the other hand, you could make a thorough post about how and why unicorns lose their horns when children stop believing in them. But then you share it with a photo of a happy child. It might be an adorable photo, but it doesn’t add anything to the story you’re telling.
Match words to photos and photos to words
Every nonprofit social media post is a chance for show and tell. A caption should add meaning to a photo and a photo should add meaning to a caption. They should always be working together to tell a complete and thorough story.
What’s up with the horse?
This post gives context to the photo, details the organization’s contribution to the story, and includes a URL for more information.
Be a self-promoter
Yes, you should be talking yourself up on social media. When we say don’t be a self promoter, we mean you shouldn’t be “liking” and commenting on all your own posts. The same goes for asking board and staff members to engage with your content. A quick look through your posts by anyone familiar with your organization will be able to see what’s going on, and it will leave you looking pretty silly.
Work to build a natural following over time
The point of increasing your engagement is to know that you’re reaching and affecting more people. If you’re artificially increasing these numbers by having people inside your organization interact with your posts, you’re not actually achieving your goals. Instead, work to steadily build your following over time.
How? There’s really only one way: by steadily posting content that your audience finds interesting. And if you’re wondering how often should nonprofits post on social media? There’s no set rule but we recommend 3-5 posts on 1-2 platforms every week.
Post the same types of content over and over
It’s common for nonprofits to get stuck in a posting rut. Some organizations only post when they have upcoming events, are thanking sponsors, or had a major accomplishment. But there’s no topic so interesting that it should be the only thing you write about on social media. It’s also hard to hit three posts a week with a single topic. This is a quick way to reach audience fatigue and lose engagement.
Diversify your content
Plan out what you want to post a week or two ahead of time and make sure every post you share in a week is different from the others. Not sure what to post about? Here are some ideas (more below).
- Behind the scenes – Show them life in the office or on the job site.
- Team members – Introduce them to your staff and volunteers.
- News articles – Share relevant community news articles and provide commentary (this makes you a nexus of information and builds your brand voice!)
- Project successes, big AND small – There’s no need to wait for huge milestones. Even if projects are developing slowly, sharing the latest news shows progress.
- Fundraising – Get non-profit verified and take donations directly on Facebook!
- Share your numbers – Give your audience the statistics on the work you do. This could be number of projects completed, percentage of clients over the age of 50, number of unicorns saved…. anything you’re proud of (or would put in a grant proposal!)
- Archival content – Some nonprofits shy away from this because they think it looks like they aren’t doing anything worth talking about today. But strategically (and occasionally) posting old photos or videos demonstrates perseverance and longevity of service.
- Resources/advice for those you’re serving – Social media isn’t just a place to get support for your work, it can be a tool for the work itself. Give people tips for staying safe, reducing their carbon emissions, etc. Or share links to other organizations that can help with related needs.
- Volunteer & work opportunities – Use your social network for well… networking. Reach out to the people that you know care about your work when you need new team members.
Royalty-free images in the public domain for all the history lovers.
Fun or useful outside content that resonates with your audience and community, and keeps your followers thinking about you and your topic.
Staff photos and behind the scenes candid shots help humanize the organization.
Call for volunteers well before you really need them. Followers can sense when you’re desperate.
Use 8×11 event posters as social media pictures
This is one we see a lot when it comes to social media for nonprofits. You spent time making a fancy poster or even paid a graphic designer to make one for you. So of course you want to get as much use out of it as possible.
Unfortunately, posters made for print just don’t work on social media. They look too busy and are often hard to read on a small screen or cell phone.
Create social media specific graphics OR select a relevant photo
Instead, create a poster that’s optimized for the place you want to use it. If you have a designer working on it, ask them for limited text versions in the following sizes:
- FB/IG Post
- FB Page Banner
- FB Event Banner
- FB/IG Ad (this one should be less than 20% text, but ideally no text)
It certainly gets your attention but is impossible to read.
Date, name, time, location, price. Boom. Made this in 5 minutes with a Canva template (details below).
If you’re not hiring a designer, you can make these different sized posters easily through a free design service called Canva. Remember to limit the words you use. Maybe just event name and date, then give details in the description.
And if you don’t want to bother with posters at all, that’s fine too! In fact, posts with simple photos usually perform even better. So your simplest and best bet when choosing an image for an event post is to choose a photo. Some good event photos ideas:
- Images from the last time the event was held (your best option!)
- The space the event will take place in
- Decorations for the event
- Auction items
- Food or drinks that will be served
- Performers/speakers/special guests
- Photos of the people (or unicorns!) the event will benefit
Just remember to always relate the caption to the photo!
Social Media for Nonprofits Wrap Up…
You’re busy saving unicorns or maybe people or the planet. Seriously, we see you rocking it out there. So we know that social media can end up at the bottom of the list.
And while a successful nonprofit social media strategy takes some planning, we think these simple Dos and Don’ts can help you up your game without eating up much more of your time.
- Show your audience how you’re living your mission statement instead of repeating your mission statement.
- When using insider language like program names, jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms, always explain their meaning.
- Save your donation drives for well thought out campaigns and rare emergencies.
- Match your captions to your photos and your photos to your captions.
- Go for natural engagement instead of asking board/staff/volunteers to like and comment.
- Diversify your content!
- Limit text in the images you use.
That’s it! We’re confident that these small habit changes will improve your social media right away. Good luck! We know you’ve got this!