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Instagram For Nonprofits: The Ultimate Guide

Author: Tatiana Morand
March 20, 2023
🕑 19 min read

Some nonprofits seem to get thousands of likes and new followers on Instagram without breaking a sweat. 

According to one recent study, an average of one billion people use Instagram every single month. Around 200 million Instagram users visit the profile of at least one business on a daily basis. While it may feel impossible to get even a slice of that traffic, you can leverage Instagram’s features for your nonprofit.

If you’re struggling to get results (engagement, followers, and so on), or you’re simply starting from scratch, we can walk you through effective Instagram strategies for nonprofits that’ll get you up and running.

But before we get started, make sure you’ve created an Instagram account. If not, use our guide to start a new account for your nonprofit organization… and then come back!

And if you want to learn how to use Instagram to better engage young members, check out our on-demand webinar with Amanda Myers, a nonprofit research expert here.

Is Instagram Better for Nonprofits Than Twitter or Facebook?

All three of these platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—are all popular social media channels that millions of people around the globe use daily.

While Instagram is a social platform that shares some characteristics with others, Instagram offers nonprofits some unique benefits, including:

  • Visual format. Of the three major social platforms, Instagram is the most visual. Users share photos and video clips with one another, which allows nonprofits to tell their stories and demonstrate their mission through images. 
  • Diverse, younger audience. If you’re looking to get the attention of the youth, Instagram is a safe bet. Research showed that 71% of 18-24-year-olds have an Instagram account.
  • Stories, Reels, and shoppable posts. Instagram is unique in that it offers highly engaging features like short-form video content (Stories and Reels), plus posts where you can tag products (like merch or donation campaigns) where followers can shop right from the post. According to the 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study, nonprofits that use Instagram Stories are more likely to see higher levels of engagement and follower growth than those that don’t.

With these kinds of unique benefits, it’s no wonder that more nonprofits are leaning into the platform. According to the 2021 Digital Outlook Report from Care2 and hjc, Instagram was the most popular social media platform for nonprofits in 2020, with 82% of organizations using it.

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

Setting Up Your Instagram Account

Don’t have an Instagram account for your nonprofit? No problem. We’ll walk you through the process step-by-step:

  1. Download the Instagram app on your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play store.
  2. Sign up for an Instagram account by entering your email address or phone number.
  3. Choose a username that clearly represents your nonprofit (usernames are capped at 30 characters).
  4. Add a profile photo, a short bio (150 characters or less), and a link to your website. Make sure your bio includes relevant keywords so it’s easier for followers to find you (a quick description of what your nonprofit does, for example).
  5. Link your account to Facebook and many other third-party sharing sites where you have an account. This will allow you to share photos on those platforms.
  6. Use and search tags to connect with your audience. Try these tips for using hashtags.
  7. Start sharing photos on Instagram and across your other social networks. Check out the Instagram for Business blog for examples of how brands use Instagram.

Bonus: How to Get Verified

Ever notice that some Instagram accounts have a blue checkmark next to the username? That means they’re verified.

That little blue check lets your followers know that account really belongs to your organization. It’s not a spoof account, a bot, or a spammer.

As you might imagine, there’s an application process to get your account verified on the platform. According to Instagram, there are two ways for you to get the coveted blue badge:

  1. Subscribe to Meta Verified. Learn more about the eligibility criteria.
  2. Apply for the verified badge if you are a public figure, celebrity, or brand and meet the account and eligibility requirements.

For nonprofits that want to pursue the second option, you’ll need to meet a handful of requirements, which include:

  • Following Instagram’s Terms of Use and Community Guidelines
  • Be authentic. Represent a real person, registered business, or entity.
  • Have only one account per person or business, with exceptions for language-specific accounts. We don’t verify general interest accounts (example: @puppymemes).
  • Your account must be public and have a bio, profile photo and be active when you apply.
  • Your account must represent a well-known, highly searched-for person, brand, or entity. The platform reviews accounts featured in multiple news sources and doesn’t consider paid or sponsored media content as sources for review.

From there, you can apply for a verified badge.

Creating Content for Instagram

When building content for your nonprofit’s Instagram account, you’ll need to follow some basic best practices beyond just snapping a quick pic and posting it.

Use High-Quality Images That Showcase Your Nonprofit’s Work

When planning your Instagram posts, make sure you’re using high-resolution, clear images. Most smartphones have high-quality cameras that will do the trick if you need to snap a photo, and you can use the platform’s suite of in-app tools to edit and filter your visuals.

A blurry, pixelated photo posted on your nonprofit’s account isn’t going to do you any favors. Poor-quality photos don’t effectively tell your nonprofit’s story, and they don’t represent your organization well.

Incorporate Storytelling to Engage Followers

Humans are hard-wired to crave stories. Remember standalone facts is tough, but when it’s wrapped in a good story, it’s 22 times more memorable. And that applies to how you post about your nonprofit on Instagram.

You can post several photos in a carousel to tell a clear story. Or instead of simply sharing a lone photo with no context, use the caption, tags, and hashtags to tell a story about the image you’re sharing. Your visual can tell a story in itself, and you have 2,200 characters in your caption to delve deeper into that story.

Nonprofits can share their impact in stories via Instagram posts. For example, the Toronto Humane Society regularly shares photos and stories about their rescues who have found forever homes:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Humane Society

For more examples, take a look at CharityHowTo’s post on visual storytelling for nonprofit Instagrams.

Use Hashtags to Increase Visibility

You can use hashtags strategically to reach a wider audience and gain more engagement on your posts.

Instagram, like Twitter, is a hashtag-heavy platform, with many of its users searching for keywords and hashtags to find good content (or even follow hashtags they’re particularly interested in).

For example, Indian American Impact, a nonprofit focused on equity and justice for South Asians in the U.S., used strategic hashtags to get more eyes on their list of young change makers:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Indian American Impact

Use Your Brand Voice to Build Relationships

There are a few key things to do to make sure you’re not only using Instagram the right way, but also that you’re doing so while creating the most compelling content possible, too.

First and foremost, make sure all of your Instagram content is consistent with both the overall branding and voice of your nonprofit. That covers everything from incorporating your logo or brand color palette to writing your caption copy in the same voice as you write your nonprofit’s communication materials. 

In a best-case scenario, every piece of content you put on the Internet feels like it’s coming from the exact same place, which enhances the story you want your brand to tell. You’ll use the same language and make similar choices, regardless of what you happen to be working on.

Not only does this go a long way toward creating a consistent experience for your audience, but it also gives them something tangible to latch onto. You avoid letting the “persona” behind your nonprofit get confused and muddled, which would only hurt the experience you’re trying to create.

Share User-Generated Content to Show Appreciation

Part of the formula for success with social media engagement is posting a variety of content. You can simply post your own images 100% of the time. Instead, show your appreciation for your volunteers, donors, and followers by reposting their content.

Dubbed user-generated content, these posts highlight content from a brand’s followers. A nonprofit can repost photos or videos from their followers on their own account to show gratitude. 

Nonprofits can even create entire campaigns around user-generated content. For example, healthcare provider Switch Services shared photos and selfies of participants in the annual HIV Testing Week.

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Swish Services

Diversify Content by Posting Photos, Videos, and Graphics

We all can get pretty bored after seeing the same thing over and over again. The same applies to your followers when checking out your branded social channels.

To combat this kind of boredom, mix up the type of content you post. Don’t stick to just static images. Instead, add in carousels of photos, videos, and graphics to promote your message and tell a story. 

Diversifying your content this way keeps your followers interested and engaged.

Collaborate With other Organizations and Influencers to Increase Your Reach

When it comes to building your presence on social platforms, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Instead, partner up with industry-relevant influencers and other organizations to get your message in front of their audiences as well.

You can collaborate with other organizations (like fellow nonprofits or businesses in your community) to co-market events, campaigns, or even just share one another’s content on social.

Or you can use a tool like BuzzSumo or BrandWatch to search for influencers who share a target audience with your nonprofit. You can then reach out and hammer out details on a deal to collaborate with them.

Tag Everyone in Your Post

Did you run an event with another organization?

Do you have a sponsor you’d like to thank?

Or maybe a volunteer of the week?

Tagging them in photos on Instagram will ensure they see your post, and can help you build connections (who doesn’t love a shout-out?).

Plus, the more engagement you get, the more likely your post is to show up in users’ Feeds, meaning the more likely you are to get your work in front of more people. It’s basically free marketing!

Use Instagram Insights to Track KPIs

To understand what posts are resonating with your audience (and which aren’t), follow important key performance indicators (KPIs). 

You can take a look at some basic analytics via your Instagram profile. From there, you can view recent highlights, total followers, accounts reached and engaged, plus an overview of all the content you shared.

But with Instagram Insights, you can keep an eye on additional important metrics like:

  • Content interactions
  • Ads
  • Plays

When you can easily view what content works (and doesn’t), you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

How Your NonProfit Should Use Hashtags

As we mentioned above, hashtags are a useful tool that can help you get more eyeballs on your Instagram posts. If you use the right amount of the right hashtags in the right places, you can end up driving a lot of traffic to your account.

Where to Find Relevant Hashtags For Your Account

Many nonprofits end up including hashtags like #impact, #donations, or #nonprofit. Unfortunately, these hashtags are so generic, they end up having little to no impact.

The way I’ve seen nonprofits find success with hashtags is to first learn what hashtags their target audience is already using.

For example, a writing association might include the hashtag #amwriting, which is widely used and searched for by aspiring writers.

To find your target audience on Instagram, simply type in some relevant search items into Instagram’s search and see what pops up. You’ll quickly discover common trends in hashtag usage, which can help you decide which ones to use for your account.

If you need help with finding the right hashtags, here’s a list of every nonprofit hashtag, which is a great place to start.

One tool that can help you in your search for relevant hashtags is #tagdef, which will tell you what a specific hashtag is commonly used for.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide, you can check out this one by Hello Social.


The Perfect Number of Hashtags

This a highly debated subject. Should you go for 30 hashtags per post, which is the maximum allowed? Or, should you keep things simple, and only include a couple of hashtags per post?

The answer is somewhere in the middle; although there are no exact numbers (every account and every audience is different!), studies show it’s best to keep your hashtags between 5 and 10 per post.

One of the recent studies I read from Agorapulse’s Social Media Lab, found that 8 hashtags generate the most engagement – but 6,7, and 9 hashtags generated close numbers to.

The Best Place to Include Your Hashtags

Many nonprofits’ first instinct is to include hashtags in their posts’ captions. But, there’s another option that could be more successful.

The better option is to put your hashtags in a comment. Or you could separate your caption from your hashtags with multiple line breaks, like Water for People does. This nonprofit brings clean water to communities all over the globe. 

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Water For People

The Best Way to Find Hashtag Success

From what we’ve seen, the nonprofits that continuously experiment with hashtags learn how to generate the most success from Instagram.

One great way to experiment with hashtags is to keep a few different (but similar) hashtags on rotation to see how using them affects your results.

Likewise, try different numbers of hashtags per post; you might reach more people and get more engagement if you use fewer or more than 8 hashtags.

If you’d like to experiment with more than just hashtags on your Instagram account, check out this list of 10 of the best Instagram tools to help you analyze your results and reach more people to greater success.

How to Schedule Your Instagram Posts

You don’t need to write and create each and every post months in advance, but putting together a content plan or social media calendar for your Instagram strategy helps in several ways especially if you’re telling a story with your posts.

Firstly, when you plan your content in advance, you can make sure it’s the best it can be. You don’t have to scramble at the last minute to post something just because you have to, but rather you have the time to think of a great idea and put it into practice. You can also use your calendar to make sure that you’re creating a good variety of posts, instead of posting the same thing repeatedly and boring your audience.

Scheduling can also help your organization be more coordinated. If you have any specific donation or membership campaigns coming up, planning a calendar in advance will also help you ensure you’re properly promoting it, instead of publishing updates whenever you have a spare moment.

And finally, preparing your calendar in advance means you can schedule your Instagram updates using apps such as Tailwind or Hootsuite (or just preparing drafts in the app ahead of time) and save time during your busier days.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re starting to build your calendar:

  • How often will you post? There’s a ton of content being shared on Instagram every minute, so if you want your content to reach your audience, you’ll need to post new updates frequently — preferably several times daily.
  • What times will you post? Research shows that the best posting times for nonprofits are during weekdays in the afternoon. However, the best way to find what works for your nonprofit is to experiment. Post updates at different times to see how they affect your results, especially if you have a global audience.
  • What important dates are coming up? Are you running any campaigns in the next few months, or do you have an important event organized? Make a note of these in your calendar to make sure you create the right content when it’s needed.

7 Types of Posts Your Nonprofit Should Create

When your nonprofit’s Instagram account is blank, it’s intimidating. Where do you even begin? What kind of content should you post?

Never fear—we’ve outlined a handful of post ideas to get you started.

1. Impactful Images

One of the top kinds of content you can create for your branded Instagram account is proof of your impact. 

Create posts that demonstrate how you help your clients and/or the community you serve. For example, Amnesty International Canada recently posted about progress they’re making in the fight for trans rights in Paraguay:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Amnesty

Amnesty Canada shared an image of trans woman Mariana Sepulveda, who is fighting to change her name and have her identity recognized. In doing so, they humanized this issue, showed their followers who they were supporting, and offered next steps for those who want to help.

2. Behind-the-scenes Content

Another way to attract people’s attention and get them to engage is to post more candid behind-the-scenes shots.

This can be anything from the prep you’re doing for a campaign, or your volunteers hard at work—whatever interesting is happening backstage, share it with your audience.

For example, PETA frequently teases their Instagram fans with upcoming campaigns and projects by showing a glimpse from behind the scenes, like they did with this Mena Suvari campaign, which received over 5,000 likes:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Peta

If you’d like to do this too, simply ask a volunteer to snap a few pictures of their day at your event and then send them to you to post.

3. User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) can be an extremely effective form of spreading awareness of your nonprofit.

And best of all? You’re getting your most loyal fans involved as well.

The way it works is simple; first, create a branded hashtag for your campaign (try to keep it short, self-explanatory, and make sure it includes your nonprofits’ name), then ask your followers to take pictures using your branded hashtags and following your instructions on what images you want.

You can then feature the best pictures and videos on your account; and not only are you getting some awesome free content, but you’re also making a difference in spreading the word.

The reason why this is so effective is because people trust regular people more than they do brands, charities, nonprofits, and so on.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not selling anything per se; you’re still asking for money and support for your organization, so people are naturally reluctant to trust your intentions.

But, if they see their friends supporting a nonprofit, wearing their branded clothes, and so on, it’s much more likely they’ll make a bigger impact than whatever you might post yourself.

For example, the aforementioned TWLOHA created the #TWLOHAInTheWild hashtag and asked their fans and followers to take pictures of themselves wearing TWLOHA clothes.

Instagram for Nonprofits example - TWOLHA

Like TWLOHA, feature the best images on your Instagram account and don’t forget to shout out the person who initially posted the image.

4. Educational Content

Another type of content that your followers will find helpful is educational content. These kinds of posts can teach your followers about the issues that your organization addresses and provide next steps for them to help.

For example, Amnesty International Canada works on a variety of human rights issues, which can be overwhelming for followers who want to get involved. Amnesty Canada regularly creates educational posts on their Instagram to unpack specific cases they’re working on:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Amnesty Int

In the post above, Amnesty Canada explains the case of Dorgelesse Nguessan, a single mother and hairdresser from Cameroon, who was arrested while attending a peaceful protest. The post talks about the specifics of her case and how followers can help (sign the petition to free her). 

5. Quotes and Inspiration

“IGers” are what people who use Instagram are commonly referred to — and one thing they absolutely love are quotes.

Whether it’s something inspirational, something motivational, or simply something to put a smile on people’s faces, quotes get a lot of engagement.

Even better is when you can relate that particular quote to your cause.

TWLOHA, a nonprofit helping depressive and suicidal people, often uses quotes to inspire their audience. Here’s an example that got over 5,000 likes:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - TWLOHA

In fact, quotes for this nonprofit tend to be more successful for them in terms of likes and comments as opposed to image posts.

If your nonprofit hasn’t tried creating quotes for instagram yet, an app that makes it easy to do so is called ImageQuote.

6. Event and Fundraiser Promotion

Instagram is a great platform to build buzz about your nonprofit’s upcoming events and fundraisers. 

Include social media (particularly Instagram) as a pillar in your promotion plan for upcoming fundraising campaigns. The same goes for events, whether they’re recurring or one-offs.

For example: When you promote recurring events on Instagram (like networking luncheons or monthly mixers), your supporters can get a sense of what the last event looked like. It might inspire them to sign up for the next one.

For example, the Toronto Humane Society recently promoted their first Community Day event, which raised funds and collected goods for pet owners in need.

Instagram for Nonprofits example - THS

The pet nonprofit posted the results from their event on their Instagram account, which demonstrates the positive impact on their community and encourages followers to participate in the next event.

7. Call to Action

You can also create posts that encourage your followers to act in a specific way. 

Just like you typically add a call to action for your donors when sending them an email (that way, they know how to proceed), you can do the same thing in Instagram posts.

You can ask followers to make a donation, sign a petition, or volunteer their time and offer the next steps to get started.

For example, the Toronto Humane Society added an edited video of one of the dogs in their care with a call to action to like, comment, and share the post. When followers engage with content, it increases the post’s reach. Not only does that get the nonprofit more impressions, but it also can help find the dog a forever home.

Instagram for Nonprofits example - THS 2

Instagram Features Your Nonprofit Should be Using (and Why)

This platform offers far more features beyond its main feed of photos, videos, and graphics. Nonprofits can take advantage of these unique tools to increase their followers and reach, share content with your current followers, and promote events and campaigns.

Instagram Stories

At its core, the idea at the heart of the Instagram Stories feature is a simple one—it’s a tool that lets you share multiple photos and videos with your followers, all of which will appear together in a slideshow format at the top of that person’s main feed.

A Story slideshow will look a little something like this:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - STCA

Instagram Stories for nonprofits are particularly effective, thanks in no small part to the fact that around 500 million people use this feature every single day. And since they’re shared at the top of users’ feeds when they first open the app, they’re a great way to get more engagement. Stories disappear after 24 hours, so you’re free to experiment with different content a lot more freely than you are with posts in your Feed. On top of that, Stories engage younger audiences like Millennials and Gen Z.

Plus, verified nonprofits can add a Donate button—what’s not to love?

To take advantage of Instagram Stories, you can share content like:

  • Behind-the-scenes moments
  • Profiles of staff or volunteers
  • Info on current or upcoming campaigns
  • User-generated content
  • Exclusive content (they can’t see it on any other platform)
  • Donation stickers

Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels are another feature that allows nonprofits to share short videos across the platform.

Nonprofits can create 15-second videos, edit them right on Instagram with a variety of tools, set them to music, or include a variety of effects or text. Instagram is currently prioritizing Reels in their algorithm, so you can potentially get even more engagement with these videos.

The primary difference between Reels and Stories is that Reels are public—whereas Stories are only shared with your followers.

Although Reels were just rolled out in Aug. 2020, plenty of nonprofits have jumped on the bandwagon. One example is PETA, which shares Reels of tasty veggie recipes:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Peta reel

Reels tend to perform better when they’re entertaining, educational, or inspirational. Yes, those are broad categories, so here are some content ideas to get you started:

  • Create engaging videos
  • Share educational content
  • Collaborate with other organizations or influencers for wider reach
  • Participate in viral trends (especially those that align with your branding)
  • Create motivational content

Instagram Live

Instagram Live allows your nonprofit to broadcast live on the platform and interact with followers in real-time. When you start sharing a live broadcast, your profile picture will appear at the top of your followers’ Feed with a colorful ring around it with the word “Live.”

And this feature offers an extra cherry on top for nonprofits: Instagram Live Donations. With this tool, you can raise funds live when you broadcast on the platform. 

Beyond hosting online fundraisers, you can use Instagram Live to post content like:

  • Host Q&A sessions
  • Share live event updates
  • Give virtual tours
  • Provide training sessions

Instagram Shopping

Your followers can do a lot more than like and share your photos. Thanks to a handful of features, they can also shop right from your posts.

Basically, Instagram Shopping makes it easy for followers to buy products from your photos and videos. And with more than 130 million Instagram users tapping on shopping posts every month, why wouldn’t you take advantage?

For example, Heal the Bay sells their merch in shoppable posts and Stories:

Instagram for Nonprofits example - Shoppable

Using shoppable posts, you can:

  • Sell mission merchandise
  • Showcase community-made products
  • Offer exclusive promotions

Instagram Explore

If you explore your Instagram account, you may stumble upon your Explore page. This is a page the platform’s algorithm curates based on each user’s interests (what kind of profiles they follow, what content they engage with, etc.).

It’ll look something like this:

Getting on the Instagram Explore page can help you increase your reach and find new followers. Nonprofits can increase the likelihood they’ll pop up on relevant users’ Explore pages by:

  • Using relevant hashtags
  • Participating in social campaigns
  • Finding content inspiration

Moving Forward With Instagram for Your Nonprofit

As you can see, Instagram offers a variety of unique benefits including its visual format, younger audience, and features that can keep your followers engaged.

If you aren’t already using the platform, now’s the time to start! Especially now that you have all the info you need to get set up and create compelling content that keeps followers coming back for more. 

A final tip: Don’t forget to drive followers to a WildApricot donation page! You can include a link to the donation page in your Instagram profile and then encourage followers to visit from there.

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