A Guide to Social Media for Nonprofits: 10 Best Practices for Strategy Creation

Marketing and Social Media

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It’s no secret that social media is one of the most important marketing tools a nonprofit can invest in. Almost three-quarters of all American internet users are on at least one social media platform and spend an average of two hours every day scrolling through social media feeds, liking, sharing, and commenting on posts. With such a massive presence in people’s everyday lives, social media makes connecting with your network of supporters easier than ever. 

Why should you use social media? 

Social media is a great platform to use to galvanize support through calls-to-action. Social media posts were the number one drivers of charitable giving in 2020, making it a valuable tool for nonprofits looking to raise money online and add to their ranks of volunteers. Posting links to your donation forms and promoting your fundraisers on social media can help you run successful fundraising campaigns and reach a wide audience of supporters. 

Brand awareness is also extremely important for successful nonprofits, and social media is the perfect platform to use to get your message out and establish a strong, identifiable presence in your community. Your social media presence can also be a strong trust indicator for people looking to get involved with your mission. About 82 percent of donors will look to your website and your social media profiles first for updates on your organization, so without a strong presence, you may not gain the trust necessary to build long-lasting relationships with your donors. 

As social media has grown and developed over the years, people look to social media platforms for more than just staying connected with friends and family. Social media has become a major source of news and education for people around the world. Your organization can use social media as an opportunity to educate your supporters about the work you do and the needs you seek to fill with your mission. In addition to informing your supporters, this kind of education can encourage supporters to donate to your organization to make an impact on the world. 

Creating a content calendar detailing what you’d like to post and when is  essential for a successful content strategy. Download the free template to get  started planning out your content for each month of the year!

Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits 

Before you start posting content left and right to your social media profiles, it’s essential to have a strategy to guide your growth on social media platforms and establish a strong presence. Here are a few best practices for developing a strong social media strategy. 

Set SMART goals 

The first step of starting a social media strategy is to set goals. Using the SMART goal method can be helpful to ensure your goals are attainable and provides a precise target for you to aim at. SMART goals are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Setting a goal that’s too broad and vague can be hard to measure and assess. Instead, decide on what metrics you can use to measure your success and base your goals around and use that to determine what goals you can work towards. 

Identify your audience 

Before you start creating content, it’s vital to assess your audience and determine what will be most engaging for them. Consider who your donors and supporters are and then use that information to determine what they want to see from your social media channels. 

Collecting demographic data like age and wealth indicators are a great way of gauging what platforms your donors will likely be active on and how you should communicate with them. For example, Generation X tends to be active on sites like Facebook, and Millennials and Generation Z see social media presence as a major trust indicator and will likely be turned off by organizations who have a poor social media presence.  

Decide what platforms to use 

There are a plethora of social media platforms to choose from and it feels like more and more pop up every day. Maintaining a strong social media presence can be difficult if you’re splitting your time between more platforms than you can handle. Think about what platforms might be most important and effective for your organization and prioritize those in your social media strategy.  

Ask yourself where your supporters and donors spend their time. Do they prefer Instagram to Facebook? Do you get more engagement on X than TikTok? By picking and choosing your desired social media platforms, you can focus on creating quality content instead of posting online just for the sake of posting. 

If you already use social media, take stock of what’s working for you and what isn’t. If you’re spending a lot of time on X trying to increase your engagement levels but aren’t seeing much success, it might be time to start focusing your efforts on other social media platforms. 

Set-up and optimize your profiles 

The work doesn’t stop once you’ve claimed a social media username and filled out your basic profile information. Make sure you’ve provided all the information you can on your social media profile and use keywords people associate with your nonprofit so your supporters can find you easily and you can expand your reach. 

Between platforms, it’s also vital to have consistent branding. When your profiles aren’t consistent in your brand colors, imagery, tone, and information across social media platforms, it can be difficult to get connected with your network of donors and supporters. People use social media profiles as a trust indicator, and when they’re unsure whether a profile is an official part of your social media network, they’re less likely to follow you. 

Create a content calendar 

A content calendar is an essential part of any effective social media strategy. With a content calendar, you can plan out your content month to month and ensure that you’re posting consistently and on schedule

When you first begin posting, figure out what days and times are best for maximizing your engagement through trial and error. You’ll begin to see patterns form as you post content, and from there you can decide when the best times are to post to your various social media platforms to reach the most people and interact with your donors and supporters. 

As you create your calendar, keep in mind holidays and anything you need to schedule around. Staying on top of current events and happenings can help you build a more relevant and dynamic content calendar, making it easier for you to increase your engagement levels and keep donors informed. 

Post engaging content 

Donor fatigue is real and doesn’t just happen with direct mail, but with social media too. Posting donation request after donation request can feel tedious for your followers and it may not bring in as many donations as you think. Instead, plan to post a variety of content and set up a cadence so your audience can expect to see diversity in your posts. 

Generally, you’ll only want to post donation asks about two to three times a month. In addition to soliciting donations, you can also post volunteer and engagement requests so your donors can get involved with the work your nonprofit does in different ways. Thanking your network of social media followers and donors for their support is essential to donor retention, so post thank-you messages regularly–about three to four times a month. You can also highlight donors and volunteers in regular spotlight posts so your network can get to know each other better and see the faces that make your work possible. 

Your social media platforms can also be a source of education for your supporters. Post photos and videos that show off the work you do and provide background information about why your nonprofit exists to fill a need. Using visual storytelling can be a powerful tool for galvanizing support via your social media platforms. Educating your supporters will encourage them to continue giving and supporting your mission. 

As always, it’s important to stay on top of current events and make sure your content is sensitive to anything major happening in the world. Use appropriate language and keep aware of your tone whenever you’re posting during a sensitive time. In some situations, it is appropriate to halt all social media posting and keep space open for sources and voices that need to be heard. In other situations, you may be able to amplify those voices or provide aid in some way. Use your best judgment to determine what path is better and look to your peers in the industry to determine what is more helpful at the time if you aren’t sure. 

Coming up with engaging social posts year-round can be a challenge. Download  the 365 Days of Social Prompt Ideas eBook for content ideas for every day of  the year!

Set guidelines for posting across platforms 

Keeping your guidelines consistent across your social media platforms should be a big priority for your organization when it comes to your social media strategy. When it comes to social media, brevity is key, and some platforms like X enforce word and character limits you can’t exceed. When there isn’t a given word limit, try to set guidelines for your social media team using social media best practices. With platforms like Instagram, for example, captions should be kept to around 138 to 150 characters. Also consider what hashtags your social team should use with every post. 

To keep your social media profiles cohesive with your brand, establish a social media branding guide anyone can reference when putting together a post on social media. What colors and fonts should people use in the graphics they create? What kind of vocabulary and tone best conveys your organization’s message on social media? Consider the purpose of different social media platforms when making these guidelines but remember that your goal is to keep your social media presence true to your brand. 

Track performance metrics 

You’re not going to be a social media expert right off the bat, so tracking performance metrics can help you identify areas for improvement and set benchmarks for regular engagement levels from your supporters. Keep track of things like how many likes, shares, and comments you get on all of your posts, and ask yourself questions like: 

  • Are there some types of posts that perform better than others?  
  • Are there certain days of the week and times of day where posts receive higher levels of engagement? 
  • What kind of language is used in posts with a lot of engagement?  
  • Did using certain hashtags expand your reach to new audiences? 
  • What kinds of posts drive the most traffic to your website? 

When you track performance metrics, you can hone your social media strategy and ensure that you’re maximizing your impact on social media platforms. 

Connect with your donors 

Social media is all about being connected, so make sure you’re using it to build connections with your donors. Responding to comments and messages in a timely manner will make your supporters feel like they matter and can build rapport between you and your donors. General social media best practice is to respond to all questions you get, whether they’re asked publicly in the comment section of a post or sent in a direct message to your team.  

With social media, there is always the possibility that you will receive negative feedback or comments about an issue or problem. While you may be tempted to delete those comments from a public-facing profile, it’s best to leave them and try to take communication to a more private format as soon as possible. Respond to the comment with language along the lines of, “So sorry you’re having this problem,” and then establish a private line of communication through direct messages to work through the problem in a less public forum. Only delete comments if they contain profanity or go against your community guidelines. 

Stay flexible 

The world of social media is constantly changing and evolving. Social media platforms and trends come and go and some platforms become more popular for certain audiences than others. Don’t feel pressure to maintain a social media presence on every single platform or capitalize on every single trend if you aren’t able to produce quality content. However, it is important that your strategy leaves room for growth and change so you can quickly adjust to the fast-paced world of social media. Finding a happy medium isn’t always easy, but with time, you’ll learn to go with the flow. 

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Final thoughts 

Learning the ins and outs of social media to develop a strong strategy will take time and effort, especially if you don’t have a dedicated social media team. However, with trial and error, you can develop a strong social media presence and begin marketing and connecting with your wide network of supporters and donors, hopefully even meeting some new faces along the way. 

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