Nonprofit Social Media is Essential to Attracting and Retaining Donors

Social Media

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Carolyn Appleton has more than 30 years of hands-on nonprofit major gift fundraising experience. She both designs and implements major gift campaigns, and has raised more than $33 million. Carolyn is known for being a “troubleshooter,” tackling difficult and seemingly impossible fundraising efforts and turning them into success stories. With two degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Carolyn has extensive experience with grant research and writing for individuals, foundations, corporations and government agencies. She is present on most major social media platforms and Carolyn has lectured about using social media in the context of fundraising and major gift campaigns, specifically.

Social media has become too important for nonprofit organizations to ignore.

Yet, I find many nonprofits still assume social media is just for “young people” and of less importance overall. Nonprofit leaders sometimes say they do not have time to bother with it, and they frequently assign the task of managing their nonprofit’s social media to interns and less experienced staff. This is a mistake, however, one exacerbated by COVID-19 and the increase in online communications today.

Sayana Izmailova notes in an excellent post on G2 Learning Hub:

“Your online presence is not only a place for you to engage with your existing community, it’s also a place where you can attract new supporters, educate new audiences about your work and collaborate with other organizations to help advance your shared mission.

Carolyn-Appleton-on-social-media-for-nonprofits

Experienced fundraising staff often have more life and work experience than other nonprofit staff members. A mature nonprofit professional with a big picture mindset and sensitivity to how information is conveyed can be more effective when it comes to interacting on social media with donors, potential contributors, volunteers, and partner organizations. The ability to listen, to interpret, and to diplomatically converse online makes a world of difference, particularly when  setting the stage for raising significant funding. Today, not only are donors and potential donors watching your nonprofit on social media, professional advisors are, also. And the latter tend to be less emotional and “forgiving” when it comes to evaluating your nonprofit’s professionalism and its merits as witnessed on social media. Social media management must be taken seriously and properly assigned.

This is not to say younger, non-development employees are not helpful when it comes to communicating online. Younger staff are frequently quick to adopt new technologies and platforms. They often become facile using them, and more rapidly. They can teach others how to use those platforms, and when given proper guidance, they can excel at social media.

Having said this, I find the fine-tuned, experienced mind of a seasoned fundraising professional is invaluable in nonprofit communications. They have the interests of donors – and the nonprofit’s mission – foremost in mind. Certainly, there are roles for both younger and older staff members online, and it depends on the public image you wish to convey. But, I have yet to find a nonprofit organization that does not need to secure funding. Hence, you should be thoughtful when making use of social media, and about whom you assign to manage it.

Inc. shares an insightful article by Hollis Thomases, “Social Media: 11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media.”
He wisely notes:

“Just because you don’t understand social media doesn’t mean you should forfeit all common sense and hire your niece, nephew, or any other recent college grad (say, your best friend’s sister-in-law’s kid) because “they’re really good on Facebook.” If your business targets the young and hip, most definitely look to a recent grad or young social-media nerd to help your business. But don’t assume, either, that you need to hire someone young to manage your social media ‘just because.

I find that knowing the nonprofit well, maintaining a “cool head” less inclined to responding emotionally without thinking, and understanding the organization’s short and long-term needs are the skills of an ideal nonprofit social media manager.

I recently cleaned-up and fine-tuned the Facebook and Instagram pages of a nonprofit representing the life and achievements of an important historical figure. Not only were both feeds full of repetitive images and information, the two interns who had managed them for two years had “liked” hundreds of their friends’ feeds, photos and posts. This included their hair stylists, yoga instructors, gyms, and restaurants. They were “following” and “liking” people they met while on vacation. Awesome tattoos were a favorite, as were “in your face” hamburger photos.

Does that sound appropriate to representing a venerable historical figure, their family, and national legacy? Yet, they genuinely believed they were helping the nonprofit expand and develop its community.

Missing from the interns’ “follows” and “likes” were relevant historical feeds, acceptable businesses located in the vicinity of the nonprofit’s home base, and partner nonprofits, for instance. And during COVID-19 in 2020, they had shared numerous posts about recruiting volunteers for in-person volunteer workdays, and announcing large in-person events (leaving them up online, even when those activities were cancelled). It appeared the nonprofit was actively disobeying CDC guidelines regarding in-person gatherings.

Of course, this was undone by my hand, and it took quite a bit of time. In the case of the Instagram feed, once I finished removing the above and following more appropriate partner feeds, the nonprofit’s visibility on the platform rose 5,000%. My clean-up work was rewarded!

As donors, prospective donors, professional advisors, and partners increasingly move online to learn about and engage with the good work of nonprofits, staff must recognize the image their social media platforms convey can either attract or repulse. Having a calm and experienced mind operating your nonprofit’s social media will help ensure the public image of the nonprofit is safely maintained. It will also ensure the interests of both the organization and its constituents are well cared for and protected.


And although it’s true development staff are busy fundraising, especially today, consider setting aside their time to oversee social media. Consider this  a “development” activity. That wise decision could make or break your nonprofit’s credibility, and your ability to secure meaningful gifts and future partnerships.

Looking for more ways to attract and retain donors through social media? Check out the advice offered by Julia Campbell and Josh Hirsch in their Fundraising Lab presentation, How to Use Social Media & Digital Strategies to Build Community and Drive Donations.

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