Nonprofits have critically important missions that certainly don’t match their small operating budgets. That’s why they need to constantly innovate and make the most of the least. With that in mind, I wrote this article about social media for nonprofits. Here are 30 high-impact, low-cost social media opportunities for nonprofits (adapted from a talk I gave at Tech Impact‘s conference, Social Media for Nonprofits, and including some great insights from other speakers).
1) Appreciate corporate sponsors. This is probably the easiest tip and the biggest missed opportunity. An example is Comcast’s blog a few days after Comcast Cares Day, a community service day for Comcast employees. The blog mentioned what employees did and where they volunteered. Some years very few nonprofits that benefited from Comcast volunteers post “thank yous.”
Corporate sponsors love to be recognized for their contributions to the community, and they deserve this recognition. They make a huge difference in our programs and to the people we serve. Go to your sponsors’ blogs and Facebook pages and post thank you messages. Have your team, volunteers and the people you serve (if appropriate) do the same. Senior level people at corporations read their own blogs. And, let’s face it, there are many options sponsors have when choosing partner nonprofits. Let’s give them one more reason to choose you. (Also thank corporate partners on your own social media channels – your blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, Instagram, etc.)
2) Wikipedia. Check out Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia comprised entirely of consumer generated and edited articles. As the 8th highest trafficked site on the Internet, Wikipedia offers nonprofits a lot of visibility. If you don’t have a Wikipedia page for your nonprofit consider creating one. Here’s an example of a page for local Philadelphia nonprofit Project H.O.M.E.
If you’re part of a national organization coordinate with your national office, which may already have put this in place. And, before creating your own page, participate in the editing of someone else’s page to get a feel for Wikipedia.
Keep in mind that since this is a consumer-edited encyclopedia, you’ll need to keep an eye on the page to ensure no one adds incorrect information.
3) Reserve your name in all social media platforms. Just because you’re not yet using YouTube, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own your YouTube Channel. Same for Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Knowem is a site you can use to find whether or not your name is available on a variety of social networks.
4) Empower your supporters to fundraise online. You don’t even need your own social media presence for this. You can go to a third party like First Giving , Blackbaud, Classy or Crowdrise and enable your supporters to fundraise online. Your supporters setup their own personal giving page (like this one), and then your supporters use their own social media networks to ask friends to donate. This is an online tactic that has actually generated significant money for nonprofits and where you can measure the positive ROI.
For this to work, it’s important to give your supporters specific suggestions. Tell them to include a personal story about why they are passionate about the nonprofit (on their personal giving web page) and provide your supporters with an example of what that type of story looks like. This increased results by about 50%. Also, remind supporters to share their pages through email and social media.
Many nonprofits use this for events. You can also use it for non-event related peer-to-peer campaigns. For Spark the Wave, we do peer to peer asks once a year, and they’re not tied to an event. It works just as well and there are no event related expenses. It’s the stories and not the events that I’ve seen drive participation. (Also, when friends contribute to your nonprofit, they will probably donate whether or not there’s an event.)
If you’re raising money for an individual (for a trip, medical bills, etc.) you can check out GoFundMe and GoGetFunding
5) Make your donors part of the story. At one of our events, we had posters that had the headline “Mentoring Is _______”. We asked donors to fill in the rest. Donors wrote what they thought and we took photos of them in front of a Big Brothers Big Sisters branded wall. Then we posted the photos on social media. We tagged donors in the photos. Donors loved it.
At this events, donors also had us take photos of them with they’re cell phones, and donors posted the photos to their social media streams.
Our donors became part of the story and we reached many of their friends. Also look for appropriate opportunities to make your volunteers and clients part of the story.
6) Use social media internally. Social media is a great way to tap into internal expertise. This works especially well if you’re a nonprofit that’s part of a national network. Social media can be a way to share best practices, get advice, see who can help with various projects, and so on. You can use a closed group on LinkedIn, a Facebook group or an internal social media platform like Yammer (which has a free version). The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has so many employees that they use a twitter account to keep everyone updated on what’s going on.
7) Social media can provide volunteer support. I’ve noticed that users of the Big Brothers Big Sisters LinkedIn Group are often volunteers seeking advice related to their mentoring relationships. There’s a nice support system that has sprung up to address this. Volunteers provide each other with advice and our staff provides suggestions as well. Perhaps social media is a good way for you to support your volunteers, if they’d benefit from support.
8) Avoid a ghost town. If there isn’t any engagement with your social media efforts, it generally keeps new visitors from engaging. How do you first encourage engagement? You recruit a handful of very loyal supporters – staff and volunteers – and get them to commit to participating in your social media efforts. They have to be dedicated because it could require six months of them liking posts, making comments and participating in conversations before you see a response from others.
Someone should also do a sweep of your social media accounts 2-3 times a day.
9) Generate engagement on Facebook. A lot of nonprofits were concerned that their Facebook pages have little interaction. Here are some suggestions to spur engagement:
Highlight volunteers. Then they’ll share the content with their friends.
Ask questions. This gets high interaction rates.
Include photos or graphics with posts; this increases engagement.
A great suggestion from my friend, and fellow speaker George Ward: post things like, “If you love national mentoring month, click like”. These types of posts give people a reason to click “like” and have led to a lot of activity. (By the way, George is my go to guy when I have social media questions, and he’s been a huge help to Big Brothers Big Sisters. He freelances, so feel free to reach out to him, if you need a consultant.)
10) Listen. You may not be creating content for social networks, but you should at least be listening to what people are saying about you. That allows you to find advocates and respond to positive or negative comments. I’ve seen nonprofits find important supporters that they never knew about. I like to use Google Alerts. Every time Google indexes a new page with my search terms, I get an update. Social Mention is good for tracking mentions across social media. I also use HootSuite to manage my Twitter account and to track when organizations or people I’m following are mentioned. You can use this or many other social media tools.
11) Pay attention. If you have time, look at the profiles of the folks connecting to you. You may not yet realize the excellent resources that you have right in front of you. Executives at a charter school once told me, “Oh my goodness, we just checked out one of our online fans, and he is a partner in a giant investment bank. He can be an amazing resource for us.” SocialRank is a tool that can analyze your Twitter and Instagram followers and help you see which followers are influencers.
12) Text to give. Anna Cramer from Alex’s Lemonade Stand had this great tip. Alex’s Lemonade Stand has found that offering a text to give option at events works well. Event participants often don’t have money with them or don’t want to take out their credit card, stand in line, etc. In those cases, they’ve generated a good return by promoting text to give. Of course, text to give campaigns tend to generate lower donation amounts, so be careful not to cannibalize something else you may be using, if it’s working at events (also, this advice is meant for activity based events, like a lemonade stand). text2give is worth checking out if you’re looking for a way to allow your supporters to easily donate via text.
13) Allow donations via Twitter. If your supporters use Twitter, you can work with Charitweet to allow your audience to make donations via Twitter.
14) Extend your PR reach. If you have an event or news story, you can often get journalists and organizations to pay more attention when you contact them through Twitter or social media. At this point, it’s often less cluttered and given more attention than more traditional channels. Kay Keenan, President Growth Consulting Inc., added that you should also expand your PR list to include digital only publications.
My cousin runs an advocacy nonprofit, the No Nut Traveler. She has reached out to journalists she doesn’t know through Linked In and received press coverage all over the Web. Keep those types of outreach messages relevant and short.
15) Tell stories. Nonprofits have a huge advantage in that we have great stories to tell. Emotional stories. Think about using video. Don’t expect the types of results of Invisible Children or Caine’s Arcade (a truly inspiring video that will make you tear up), but let these videos remind you that a great story makes a difference.
16) Linked In. Your development team and CEO can use LinkedIn to see which board members have connections that would be helpful — for example, contacts at a foundation you’re pitching for a grant. Board members get constant emails asking who we know at different organizations. Check and connect on LinkedIn first.
Also create a LinkedIn group for your nonprofit. Volunteers and supporters are proud of their nonprofits. They’ll join the group giving you another way to expand your network. I wouldn’t send a blanket email to volunteers asking if any of them had a contact at a foundation or worked for a company we were pitching. But, if volunteers are connected to us through Linked-In, I can check their networks and reach out individually to volunteers who can help us.
Members of nonprofit LinkedIn groups generally don’t expect you to create content, so this doesn’t have to generate work for your team.
When you setup your LinkedIn groups, attach it to your organization. Many people have an individual in the organization setup the group and attach the group to the individual. This causes problems if that individual leaves your nonprofit.
Also, ask board members and volunteers to mention your organization in their Linked-In profile as well as online bios. It’s marketing to their friends and getting the word out about your organization.
17) Create a social media advisory board. Include a lawyer and a social media practitioner. Even if you don’t use social media yet, you want to have your advisors in place in case you have to respond to something that happens in social media.
If something goes wrong in social media, it will move quickly, and you won’t have time to figure out what to do. Also, you’ll have things pop up – for example, someone posts bad comments about your organization. When do you respond? What do you do? What if someone posts things you don’t like on your Facebook wall?
With your board you should develop a policy and plan for managing social media. If there is a crisis, what is the chain of command?
18) Post your policies. Another suggestion from George Ward. For example, post your Facebook policies on a tab on your Facebook page and include what types of posts are inappropriate. Then you can point to it if you have to remove posts.
19) Know your digital influencers. Do you have celebrities or supporters with a big online following? If so, ask them to promote you. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) said that they get about 600 new followers every time supporter Ryan Seacrest mentions them in a tweet. This is an easy ask of your supporters.
20) Make donating easy. Even though this is all about social media, I want to mention how you can make donating easy. 90% of nonprofit web sites I review miss this…
Since so many people want to donate online, you should have a clear and easy way for people to donate in honor of someone else, as a gift for someone else or any other ways that you accept donations. Consumers will be frustrated if they have to call you on the phone because online doesn’t give them the option of making a donation and specifying the note they’d like you to send to a friend or family member in whose name they’re making that donation. Someone should be able to donate online exactly how she can donate over the phone, or she might just go to a similar nonprofit’s web site that makes it easy for her. Click here to see how the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House allows multiple options for donors.
21) Online reviews Ask your supporters to write stories on GreatNonprofits. This site syndicates your reviews and stories about nonprofits to GuideStar and other high traffic web sites used by donors. You’re probably already collecting stories for your mailings and web site, so make sure you maximize the impact of those stories.
22) Amazon Smile. You can earn .5% on all purchases your supporters make through Amazon via their Amazon Smile program. If you have a lot of dedicated supporters this is an easy way they can contribute without spending any of their own money.
23) Publicly thanking your supporters and mentioning your fundraising events reminds people that you’re a nonprofit that needs donations. These don’t even have to be requests for money – just updates. Try to keep your requests for money to 20% or fewer of your social media posts. Another idea provided by CHOP. The rest of your posts can show appreciation for your donors, volunteers, partners and supporters, share stories about your successes and highlight the people you serve (if appropriate). You can also highlight a staff member, volunteer or supporter of the month online.
24) Don’t panic. You don’t have to do everything at once. Start with one opportunity or one social network and when it’s running well, decide if you should rollout to another. This isn’t a race.
25) Choose a social network and strategies and tactics that align with your goals. Too many nonprofits get caught up in the excitement of social media and don’t think about what will fit with their strategic goals. Where are your constituents online and what do they use? How will participating help you achieve your goals?
26) Create an editorial calendar. Work with your team to plan in advance what you’ll post to social media and when. You can plan which events you’ll incorporate, who will take photos at events, when you’ll have volunteer stories, program highlights, asks, etc.
27) Leverage technology to manage updates. Tools like Buffer are great for giving you one interface for managing social media posts to multiple social media networks. Buffer will also help you determine the best times to post and allow you to schedule your posts. They offer a nonprofit discount.
28) Be mobile friendly. We’ve seen that a majority of site visitors coming to our web sites from social media are on mobile devices. If you’re using social media, consider investing in a mobile friendly site (if you haven’t already).
29) Don’t forget email. The drive to build an audience on Facebook, Twitter and social networks has often become the most important and visible “digital” ask by nonprofits. Even though this article is about social media for nonprofits, I want to remind you not to forget about email.
For many nonprofits email gets a much higher response than Facebook or Twitter. Sending email to 100 constituents will get more people to read and respond to my content than posting my content in a Facebook or Twitter update that reaches the same 100 people. Facebook’s algorithm may decide my post isn’t important and push it down in the news feed. Or, if I post on a day when someone isn’t checking Facebook or Twitter my update could be buried underneath other updates by the time that person checks.
Over time, some people also grow tired of social networks, and people change social networks. I’ve heard from more and more people that they’ve moved from Facebook to Twitter or Twitter to Instagram. Most people continue to be engaged with their personal email addresses. And, you can still encourage social sharing when you email by including buttons and links for your readers to share the content on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Posting to social media is definitely effective and you should build your social media relationships. However, don’t let it replace email collection, which I believe should still be a priority.
One caveat is to make sure this works for your audience – I’m Board Chair of Spark the Wave, a nonprofit that serves high school kids. We’ve found that our high schoolers prefer text messaging, Instagram and Facebook and rarely use email, so in that case email collection is much less valuable.
Also, if many of your email subscribers use Gmail, your email may drop in effectiveness, because emails from organizations often get filtered out of a users’ primary inbox on Gmail. One tactic to prevent this is to ensure your welcome email to new gmail subscribers explains how they can move your emails to their primary email tab, so your messages don’t get filtered out of their inbox and into their promotional emails box.
30) Have fun. Social media is an opportunity to connect with a community of people who appreciate what your nonprofit does. Enjoy it.
I’m an entrepreneur and angel investor. I don’t work in the nonprofit space, but I spend a lot of time volunteering with nonprofits. I think nonprofit leaders have to be as entrepreneurial as their for profit counterparts and under much more difficult constraints. I hope this helps.
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What social media for nonprofits ideas would you add? Please share your ideas for nonprofits to successfully leverage social media below and let’s see if we can create a great resource to benefit nonprofits.