Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofits – A Comprehensive Guide
Understanding social media best practices for nonprofits can feel a bit overwhelming these days. There are dozens of social media channels to choose from, hundreds of features within each channel, and tactics galore. Furthermore, if your organization doesn’t have a deep understanding of the purpose and function of a given channel, you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels without much to show for it.
To help you better understand how to leverage the power of social media for nonprofits, we have compiled the following social media guidelines for nonprofits. By the end of the post, you’ll know:
- The best kinds of content for social media.
- How to track and measure your campaigns.
- The components of a great social media plan.
And, as a bonus, you’ll find a FREE downloadable guide for social media best practices for nonprofits at the end.
#1 — CHOOSE THE RIGHT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNEL FOR YOUR CAUSE
With all of the different social media platforms available, remember to work smarter, not harder. Nonprofits must be strategic in selecting the appropriate social media channels for their content creation, outreach, and engagement efforts because not all platforms are equally effective for achieving their goals. It’s important to understand that each social media platform has a unique user base, features, content format, and culture—and this significantly impacts how well a nonprofit’s message resonates with its target audience.
Nonprofits must carefully assess their goals, target audience, content type, available resources, and desired engagement to strategically select the social media channels that best align with their mission, goals, and objectives. A thoughtful and informed approach to channel selection can amplify a nonprofit’s impact by helping reach their intended audience more effectively. Missing the mark on strategic channel selection can cost a nonprofit time, resources, valuable leads, supporters, and, ultimately, donors.
Here is a breakdown of the most popular channels to help decide what’s right for your organization:
- Instagram: A highly visual network for static images and short-form videos. Not optimal when driving website traffic conversions, but optimal for creating community and raising money through the donation tool.
- TikTok: Both a short-form video search engine and entertainment hub, with content covering everything from dancing to thorough how-to videos. Great for reaching and engaging a younger audience.
- Facebook: Mainly geared towards news and entertainment. The current emphasis is on video content, especially live streaming. Note that Facebook currently sends more website referral traffic than any other social media channel.
- LinkedIn: Professional network. Used heavily for sharing industry articles and general professional content.
- X (formerly known as Twitter): A news and conversation tool.
- Threads: Meta’s X lookalike.
- Snapchat: Although originally focused on private, person-to-person photo sharing, it can now be used for a range of different tasks, including live video chatting, messaging, creating caricature-like Bitmoji avatars, and sharing photos and videos via a chronological “story” that’s broadcasted to all your followers.
- Pinterest: A photo and video curation app often used by creative types to find inspiration.
- Reddit: A community forum discussing various topics across different threads.
#2 — IDENTIFY + UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
With millions of people on social media every day, understanding your target audience is more important than ever. Identifying your audience will help you determine critical elements of your social strategy, including the right social channel for your cause, your posting schedule, the type of content you publish, your messaging, and voice.
Here are two ways to do this:
- Data Deep Dive: Find out everything you can about your audience, including geographic breakdown, demographics, interests, what content resonates, how often, and where they take action. You can do this through analytics, team interviews, mini-focus groups, etc.
- Persona Development: Using your data, synthesize what you learned into specific user profiles and scenarios to better understand who your audience is and the most effective ways to reach and engage them.
#3 — SET YOUR KPIS, TRACKING, AND BENCHMARKS
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are measurable values that demonstrate how effective your social channels are performing. For example, if your goal is to grow your Facebook audience to 100,000 followers, your KPI could be the rate you are adding or losing Facebook followers. Generally speaking, KPIs fall into four different categories:
- Awareness: Impressions, Views, Reach
- Growth: Followers, Likes, Subscribers
- Engagement: Reactions, Clicks, Comments, Shares
- Conversions: Event registration, financial contributions, recruitment
Wondering how to set your KPIs? We recommend looking at three data points to get started: (1) the past performance of your channels, (2) industry averages (below), and (3) your marketing and/or development goals.
Industry Averages + Benchmarks
One of the most common questions we get is, “How do we compare to other organizations / What are the industry averages?” Although every organization and nonprofit industry is different, there are a few benchmarks that can be helpful to know:
- On average, nonprofits have about 76,000 Facebook Likes.
- The average growth for Facebook Likes is 4% per year.
- The average growth for Instagram is 43% per year.
Source: M+R Benchmarks Study, 2023
#4 —COMPLETE YOUR ACCOUNT PROFILES
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to fill out your account profile with as much information as you can. Why? Because the information there—including your organization’s name, custom vanity URL, avatar, cover photo, bio, and about us section—are all elements that are used to categorize your channel for providing “page suggestions” or “who to follow” recommendations for other users. If your profile isn’t filled out (especially with keywords that distinguish your organization), you risk not being mentioned or suggested to new audiences.
Include hashtags and keywords you want to be discovered for. Social platforms, like Instagram, will use hashtags in bios for search results, helping organizations’ discoverability.
Pro tip: On Facebook, make sure “Similar Page Suggestions” is clicked “ON” in your page settings so people can find you after they interact with content on a similar page. Also, if you’re targeting a certain geographic area, set your “Preferred Page Audience” to reflect who you’d most like to connect with. Anyone can find your Page, but Facebook says they’ll “do [their] best to put it in front of the people who matter to you most.”
#5 — HIRE A DEDICATED SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
A nonprofit’s social media channels are often a person’s first touchpoint with their organization and mission. Therefore, while hiring a full-time social media manager comes with costs, the potential benefits of increased engagement, brand visibility, donor retention, and overall impact on the nonprofit’s mission make it a valuable investment.
Crafting compelling and relevant content is key to capturing the attention of social media users. A social media manager can expertly leverage a nonprofit’s mission, blog posts, storytelling, research, and data to create original content and adapt this content for various platforms to maximize impact. In addition, social media managers can curate relevant articles or stories to craft relevant, exciting content that responds to these current events from the nonprofit’s perspective. Creating high-quality, relevant content translates to increased awareness, engagement, and, hopefully, conversions.
Social media managers are not just creating content to post into the ether—they are tasked with actively engaging followers, responding to comments, messages, and mentions, and fostering a sense of community among supporters. This crucial online interaction helps the nonprofit to build strong relationships, loyalty, and a positive reputation. In turn, these efforts should translate to donor acquisition and retention. Effective social media managers will also analyze data and metrics to measure the success of content campaigns and social strategies, enabling a nonprofit to make informed marketing decisions and better serve its supporters.
Social media platforms are constantly evolving, with algorithm changes and new features being introduced almost weekly (looking at you, X). A skilled social media manager can stay updated on these myriad changes and adjust the nonprofit’s strategy accordingly to maintain visibility and engagement. They can also make strategic recommendations on how to best adapt the nonprofit’s social media strategy to fit platform updates and changes to ensure the nonprofit is effectively achieving its goals.
Ultimately, a dedicated social media manager can create a comprehensive social media strategy tailored to a nonprofit’s goals, target audience, and mission. Managing social media can be time-consuming, especially as a nonprofit grows and scales over time. Hiring a full-time social media manager or adding an agency skilled in social media management as a partner allows other team members to focus on other core responsibilities—such as paid advertising, fundraising, website design, etc.—leading to better overall efficiency and stronger, holistic marketing.
#6 — INTEGRATE EVERYWHERE
Every online asset you own (website, SEO, blog, email, etc.) should have your social media channels integrated and used for cross-promotion.
Discoverability and SEO continue to be critical to ensure your social content reaches the right audience for your cause. SEO is quickly evolving and moving past Google and other search engines. Where hashtags once ruled search and trends, SEO is becoming increasingly important in social media as well.
Here is a short checklist for where and how to integrate your social channels:
- Your website (homepage and all interior pages) should have social follow buttons (not just the icons), and they should be ‘above the fold’ or as a static bar to ensure your audience can easily find them.
- Leverage SEO in your social channels to help your audiences find and engage with your content. Learn more about specific SEO integration.
- Your blog should have easy-to-find social sharing options built into every article.
- Pop-ups on your website with a social follow button are some of the best ways to convert your website traffic to your social channel.
- All of your channels and accounts should ‘speak to one another.’ Your YouTube account should have hyperlinks to your Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) accounts in the profile and the description of your videos. Your Facebook About Us section should promote your X account. And so on.
- Email signatures + newsletter templates should have social channel icons built into them.
- You should also send one-off emails to your subscribers and ask them to follow your page or share a post.
- All of your events should promote your social media channels. On signage, PowerPoint slides, announcements, and speakers’ remarks. EVERYWHERE.
Pro tip #1: Another great way to get your email subscribers over to Facebook is to ask them a question and have them respond on your Facebook page with a comment. That way, you’ll get a flurry of comments on a specific post and increase its reach dramatically.
Pro tip #2: For key pieces of content or high-traffic pages, don’t just settle for the default sharing language built into your share buttons. Instead, create custom shareable links! Here’s a tutorial: Create Shareable Social Media Links for Your Nonprofit.
#7 — BUILD A CONTENT CALENDAR
Leveraging a content calendar is one of the social media best practices for nonprofits that is critical to staying organized in social media execution. It serves to plan content and schedule posts to be delivered at optimal times.
While planning is essential, it is also important to stay nimble. Be sure to monitor trends and be willing to pivot if needed.
When building a content calendar, we recommend leveraging a social media management platform like Sprout Social. Here is an example of a content and scheduling calendar from Sprout Social:
Credit: Sprout Social
Other tools that can support the creation of a content calendar are Hubspot, Dash Hudson, and Hootsuite. Asana and Airtable are also great for project management!
#8 — UTILIZE VIDEO CONTENT
93% of social media marketers say video content is a huge part of their social media strategy. From TikToks to Instagram and Facebook Reels, to YouTube Shorts and everything in between, video-first content is engaging for users.
When you’re sourcing and creating video content, ask yourself:
- What do you want your videos to accomplish? (Awareness, conversions, engagement)
- Where are you going to share your content? (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube)
- How can you best optimize your content for each platform?
Make sure to be consistent, track your performance, see what resonates with your audience, and pivot accordingly.
#9 — UTILIZE HASHTAGS
When posting on TikTok, X (formerly known as Twitter) or Instagram, use hashtags to engage in existing conversations around a particular topic or event. Hashtags allow users to easily search for discussions and conversations around a specific topic. As a nonprofit, you can even establish your own branded hashtag and incorporate it into your messaging. Just remember—when it comes to hashtags, don’t overdo it! 2-4 hashtags is the sweet spot for hashtag usage. Capitalize each word within a hashtag (i.e., #CamelCase) for accessibility.
This chart from Dash Hudson (a platform we absolutely love) explains how hashtags increase post visibility.
Source: Dash Hudson Social Media Trends Report: The Power of Community 2023
#10 — STRATEGICALLY PIN POSTS TO YOUR PROFILE
The “pin post” feature on several of the best social media platforms for nonprofits, like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and TikTok, is a valuable tool to utilize—think brand billboards. This feature can help you promote your organization’s important content, engage with your audiences, and effectively communicate your organization’s mission and initiatives upfront.
In the example below, you can see how the It Gets Better Project’s Instagram leverages the pin post feature to highlight important, timely content.
A pinned post is essentially any post that you manually select to remain at the top of your profile, meaning it will be the first post a user will see when they visit your profile. Pinning posts to the top of social media profiles is a valuable tool for conveying important messages, promoting campaigns, driving engagement, and making a positive first impression. On Instagram, you can pin up to three posts (both Reels and picture posts) to your profile grid and up to three Reels in your Reels tab. On X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook, and LinkedIn, you can pin only one post to the top of your profile. Pinning posts allows nonprofits to control what content users see first and ensures that their most important information is readily accessible to their audience.
Pinning a post allows you to feature important messages, announcements, campaigns, key initiatives, or calls to action at the top of your social media profile. If your nonprofit is running a fundraising campaign or event, pinning a post related to it can drive more attention and engagement. This tool is especially useful for time-sensitive campaigns where you want to maximize participation. Nonprofits often share valuable resources, such as donation links, volunteer opportunities, or educational materials—and by pinning these posts, you make it easy for followers to find these resources without scrolling through your feed.
Leveraging pinned posts is an opportunity to leave a strong first impression on new visitors. Or, if your nonprofit collaborates with other organizations or influencers, you can use the pin post feature to showcase these partnerships. We suggest pinning any influencer collaboration posts to the top of your profile for the duration of the campaign to ensure it earns maximum reach.
Lastly, don’t forget about community management! Pinned posts often receive strong engagement, including comments. Be sure to regularly engage with the comments on a pinned post and address any questions or concerns your audience may bring up.
#11 — TRACK AND RESPOND TO WHAT’S TRENDING
Being on top of the latest social media trends for nonprofits is an excellent way to land in the feeds of consumers who aren’t following you. On Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter), when people look at what’s trending, they can see the most popular posts related to that topic regardless of whether or not they’re following the accounts. 40% of Gen Z uses TikTok and Instagram for search instead of Google.
Join in on conversations where you are the expert, and make sure to utilize hashtags and keywords so your content can be found.
#12 — PROMOTE YOUR BEST ORGANIC CONTENT
Over the past few years, organic reach on social media has declined on almost all social platforms (with TikTok possibly being the exception). You may have noticed that it’s possible to build a large social audience, but reaching that audience is becoming more challenging. In fact, the average organic reach for a post on a Facebook Page is a mere 5.2%.
While we certainly don’t recommend only buying ads or boosting every post, we suggest considering how social advertising could increase your reach, connect with new audiences, recruit new supporters, and promote specific strategic initiatives. Start by boosting high-performing organic posts. Boosts and social ads also provide deeper insights and analytics, allowing you to test different post formats to see what works best.
- Top Advertising Tips for Nonprofit Organizations
- Creating Effective Fundraising Ads for Social Media
- The Importance of Creating a Cohesive Paid + Social Media Strategy
#13 — FIND, FOLLOW, AND BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH INFLUENCERS AND SIMILAR ORGANIZATIONS
50% of nonprofits are working with influencers, according to M+R’s 2023 Benchmarks. Nonprofits can activate influencers to increase awareness for their mission, earn support among new audiences, and improve their online reach and credibility. Inspiring new audiences and re-igniting interest from existing supporters are just a few reasons why nonprofits opt to partner with influencers and creators. Also, social media algorithms—and a growing audience of young people—want to see and interact with real people on their feeds, as 70% of teens trust influencers more than traditional celebrities.
With that in mind, we list a few benefits that partnering with influencers and creators on social media can offer your organization:
- Authenticity, Loyalty, and Trust. Influencers have built-in trust with their followers. When an influencer supports a nonprofit organization, it can lend credibility to the cause and make it more trustworthy in the eyes of their followers.
- Increased Visibility and Awareness. Influencers have established, engaged followings on social media platforms. Partnering with them allows nonprofits to tap into these audiences, raising awareness for their cause or campaign among people who may not have been exposed to it otherwise.
- Niche + Engaged Audience. Beyond the potential for a more robust ROI, micro and nano influencers already have specific niches or demographics that follow them. This allows nonprofits to target their messaging and outreach efforts to a particular audience that aligns with their mission and goals.
- Creators Are the Experts. You can expect expert content creation and digital storytelling when you partner with a well-vetted creator, as they make a living creating compelling content that resonates with their followers. This is especially helpful for nonprofit marketing teams who do not have the time, resources, or digital savvy to create trending or engaging short-form video content. Creators can make a nonprofit’s message more relatable and impactful.
- Advocacy and Action. Influencers can encourage their followers to be aware of the cause and take action, such as signing petitions, volunteering, or participating in advocacy campaigns.
- Data and Analytics. Many influencers provide data and analytics on the performance of their campaigns, which can help nonprofits track the impact of their partnership and make data-driven decisions for future collaborations.
To get started, create an authentic connection with the influencers you want to partner with by uplifting or sharing their content and tagging them. It will be appreciated when you elevate their perspectives and thought leadership, and in turn, they might share your mention/tag with their audience, follow you back, and engage with your account more regularly. Once you have established this engagement, you can approach them with a more formal content partnership by simply contacting creators in direct messages.
Also, it is important to note that organizations must consider paying creative partners, and if your nonprofit approaches an influencer with a pro-bono ask, be respectful of their time. While creator partnerships may have some costs associated with them, the content and impact can go a long way! It’s essential for nonprofit organizations to carefully select influencers who align with their values and mission, as well as to establish clear expectations and goals for the partnership. Transparency and authenticity are key to ensuring the success of influencer partnerships in the nonprofit sector.
You can learn more about the power of influencers by watching Media Cause’s webinar, How Nonprofits Can Work With Influencers to Reach New Audiences.
#14 — ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO SHARE YOUR POSTS
If you’re a fundraiser, you know that the #1 reason people do not give to an organization or cause is that they were never asked. The same goes for social media. Don’t be afraid or shy to ask people to “Like” or “Share” your content within the post and with some text overlayed on your image. If they do, they’ll not only help spread the word about your organization, but Facebook’s algorithm will make it more likely that they will see more of your content in the future because they interacted with it. So you get short-term and long-term benefits, and your fans see more of your content, which they signed up for in the first place. Win-win-win.
Pro tip: Send an email to your staff asking them to share a post. Be sure to make it extremely easy by creating a shareable social media link that takes someone right to the share box when they click on it. If you don’t know how to create a share link, review this article—Create Shareable Social Media Links for Your Nonprofit.
#15 — CREATE COMMUNITY GUIDELINES AND A RESPONSE PLAN
An integral part of social media management is building and monitoring your community. This builds trust and a sense of belonging among a network of people with shared interests, all while deepening an authentic relationship between the organization and the supporter. Your organization has an obligation to ensure everyone in your community feels safe and welcome while fostering space for folks to ask questions, engage in conversation, and spark healthy and civil debate.
As a page admin or community moderator, it is critical to monitor your page for negative comments—or worse— bullying, harassment, or hateful language. Community Guidelines explicitly outline what your community is about and how people are expected to interact with each other. This should be a public-facing document on your social channel or website that you can link to when someone violates the guidelines. Your response plan is another important document that details certain scenarios and responses for each. For example, if someone posts A, our plan is to respond with B statement and carry out the following C measures (like blocking someone, reporting them, etc.).
# 16 — UTILIZE META’S CHARITABLE TOOLS
Meta’s social impact offerings, including their Charitable Giving Tools, have been a game-changer for nonprofit fundraising strategies. It’s a great place for storytelling about your campaign, sharing photos and videos, linking back to content on your website, and providing real-time updates. With features like Facebook and Instagram Live, Fundraisers, the Donate Button, and Supporter Birthdays, there are a variety of ways to drive awareness and raise money for your organization.
Instagram is a visual platform, so it can play an effective role in your social fundraising strategy with photos and videos that inspire followers to take action. Instagram allows eligible nonprofits and their supporters to raise money directly on the platform in a few ways—adding a Fundraiser to your profile, post or Reel, Donation Sticker in Stories, and Live Donations.
Below are some tips for leveraging Instagram for your fundraising efforts:
- Utilize Your Bio. Be sure to add a link in your bio that directs to your donation page. Use your posts to support your fundraising efforts through visuals and storytelling, and always urge followers to go to the link in your bio to give.
- IG Bio Fundraiser. The donate button on Instagram allows nonprofits to raise money directly from your account. You can create a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization from an Instagram post, which will then link in your bio. These are active for 30 days, and you can extend the duration or end it at any time.
- Donate Stickers. Use the donation sticker in Stories to create a fundraiser, encouraging your supporters to donate to your cause directly on Instagram.
- Instagram Live + Donate. As a nonprofit, you can raise money on Instagram Live by creating a fundraiser that adds a donate button to your Live video. Once you begin your Live donation broadcast, you can see in real-time how many people are supporting your fundraiser and the amount of money raised.
- Feed Fundraisers. Feed Fundraisers are a long-lasting way for supporters to give to your cause. Created from the Feed Post composer, Feed Fundraisers can be shared to a Story, attached to more Feed Posts, added to Live broadcasts, or attached to video, carousel, + images.
- Instagram Group Fundraisers. Now, when you set up a fundraiser on IG, you’ll also be able to invite others to join the initiative, which will expand your reach potential by having more people promote the effort.
LOOKING FOR MORE SOCIAL MEDIA TIPS FOR NONPROFITS?
While it can be tough to navigate, social media is essential to engage with your supporters and gain new ones. For even more tips, download our FREE resource, Social Media for Nonprofits: Everything You Need to Know.
Want to learn how to create more impact? Media Cause can help you leverage your social channels, influencer marketing efforts, SEO practices, data measurement, and more to ensure your project goals are not only met but exceeded. Drop us a line. We’d love to chat!