I was working overnight shifts at a nonprofit organization about ten years ago, and was trying to find things to do to keep myself occupied (and awake). I noticed that aside from a very basic website, the organization had no online presence. It seemed like there were some missed opportunities, so I asked the Executive Director if I could work on getting the organization set up on social media. I could tell she didn’t really see the value in it, but she said I could work on it when my normal job duties were finished. This gave me about two hours a night.
I started with what I knew best, which at the time was Facebook. I created a page for the organization, and started posting regularly. I encouraged everyone I could to interact with the page; employees, volunteers, families who used the organization’s services, even my personal friends. As engagement grew, the Executive Director started to take more notice and we started to have regular discussions about content. A daytime position opened up, and after I took it she decided to let me dedicate a day out of my workweek to focus solely on our social media. I added different platforms, seeing what worked for us and what didn’t.
I started getting more involved on the other platforms in addition to Facebook, and I started integrating social media into our website, newsletter, and our collateral. It quickly became evident that managing all of it could easily become a full-time position. By then, I had the strong support of the Executive Director, but the members of our Board of Directors weren’t so easily convinced. There were clear signs that the social media was having an impact. There were increases in volunteer inquiries, requests for in-kind donations made on social media were answered quickly, and there were frequent comments made about how welcome the stories about the familes we served were. There were even families who asked to be referred to our services because they found us on social media. What the Board of Directors wanted to see, however, was a measurable increase in donations.
This happened after I started posting about our upcoming 5k walk/run, an event that would end up becoming the biggest yearly event held by the organization. Shortly after I made a post on Facebook talking about the walk, we received an unexpected $25,000 sponsor. It was a business who hadn’t heard of our charity before, but had been looking for an organization to support and found us on Facebook because one of their employees liked our page. One of our staff members came running down the stairs into the office where I was working to tell me after taking the call. It was an exciting moment. After that, the Board was convinced and I transitioned into working on the social media and communications for the organization full-time instead of one day a week.
Social media is a powerful and often underutilized tool for any business, especially nonprofit organizations because of the time needed to manage it successfully. Tell the story of the people you are serving. Share their pictures, their words, and their strength. Encourage those you have helped, your donors, your volunteers, and anyone who walks through your doors or contacts you to get involved on your social media channels. The farther your reach, the better. During my time managing social media, I learned some best practices that worked for me that I have shared below.
Tip One: To anyone managing the social media for a nonprofit, don’t overextend yourself.
If you can only commit to managing one social media platform well, don’t attempt more than that. It is okay to start slowly. When potential supporters look up your organization on social media, the worst thing they can find is a profile that is incomplete, not updated regularly, or poorly maintained. If someone visits your organization on social media and asks a question, they should receive a response within 24 hours (ideally much sooner). Some platforms require more involvement than others, so make deliberate choices depending on the time you are willing and able to invest.
Tip Two: Have a consistent voice.
A mistake that many nonprofit organizations make is not having a consistent voice across their social media and online marketing platforms. This can best be accomplished by having one person managing all of the channels, but this isn’t always possible. If there are multiple people managing the platforms, it is essential to establish branding and style guidelines specific to social media, including grammar, level of formality when speaking, use of slang, correct usage of the organization’s name, and more. Simple mistakes can muddy your messaging, so be sure everyone is on the same page. A great place to start is this article from Hootsuite.
Tip Three: Not every platform will be a fit for your organization…and that’s okay.
When I first started managing the social media full-time, I was a bit overexcited and created accounts on every social media platform I could find. It became evident very quickly that some of them just weren’t a fit for our organization. Vine and Pinterest, for example, were a lot of fun for me, but didn’t create the level of engagement we were looking for. Find out what works the best for your organization and your supporters. In the case of the organization I was working for, the top three were Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Dedicating the majority of my time to those three made the most sense in terms of what we got back.
Tip Four: Share compelling content that invites dialogue.
We have probably all had friends who are constantly trying to sell something via social media. If you’re like me, you eventially unfollow them because you are tired of seeing the same posts over and over. The same holds true for organizations. There are definitely times where an ask is appropriate, like if you are working on a specific campaign and are trying to boost donations, but constantly posting the same donation/volunteer/visit our website requests over and over will result in you losing potential supporters. Instead, focus on telling your story. Ask your followers open ended questions. Share pictures.
Tip Five: Invest in a camera and photo editing software or find a local volunteer photographer.
The organization I worked for was very fortunate to have found a professional photographer who took pictures of families on holidays, brought in his team for all of our major events, and more, all on a volunteer basis. Put the call out for a volunteer photographer on your website or VolunteerMatch; you never know who might be looking for an opportunity in your area. Compelling photography and videography will drastically boost your engagement. Take a look at some examples of how nonprofits have successfully utilized video and images in this post on CauseVox.
Tip 6: Schedule your posts if you are finding it difficult to dedicate a set amount of time to social media weekly.
By utilizing scheduling services like Hootsuite and Sprout Social, you can work on developing content and creating posts ahead of time. Most of these services also include analytics, so you can see what is working and what isn’t. Don’t rely only on scheduling, however, despite how easy and helpful it may be.
Tip Seven: Shake things up.
Don’t let yourself get into a rut with what you are posting on your social media channels. Sure, #tbt and #motivationmonday posts have their place, but if you have a month of posts scheduled with little engaging content, it’s time to re-evaluate your strategy. Scheduling is great for planned donation campaigns, events, and other big picture items. What I found, however, was that the posts that got the most engagement were the ones that simply depicted day to day life of the charity. Taking candid pictures of donors coming in to drop off supplies, volunteers helping out, or even staff members doing their jobs gives your supporters a more personal glimpse into the workings of your organization. You can find three very simple and powerful guidelines for posting here in this article from Classy.
Tip 8: Contests can be a great way to boost engagement, if done correctly and within the guidelines of the platform you’re using to do so.
Having an event like a walk? Encourage people to share pictures of themselves in walk attire (your organization’s t-shirts, hats, etc.) to enter. Looking for a last minute push for donations? Let your followers know that anyone making a donation over the next week will be entered. Prizes don’t have to be extravagant, but they do have to be interesting enough to make people want to make the effort. Some of the prizes I have seen that have worked well are organization swag, iPods, unique experiences (getting to dance onstage with the organization’s mascot at an upcoming event), and gift cards. Make sure that you are prepared to run the contest fairly. Posting videos of the actual drawing, or using a random number generator are both good ideas.
Tip 9: Always be prepared to show the impact your organization’s social media is having.
At nonprofits time is valuable, and most employees wear many different hats. You should be able to demonstrate to your Board and your supporters that the time spent on social media is worthwhile. Built in tools like Facebook Insights can be helpful and are free, but are also limited. For a very extensive list of available tools (some free and some paid), visit this article on Wishpond.
Tip 10: Have fun and enjoy your work!
Your mood and feelings towards the organization, whether intentionally or not, often show through in the content you’re posting. If you get to a point where you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, take a break and reassess before you start posting again. There are numerous discussions online about the magic number of how many posts a week is ideal, but long as you are posting with regularity (in my opinion, at least twice weekly for most platforms), you should be fine.