Skip to main content

Instagram For Nonprofits: The Ultimate Guide

Tatiana Morand Avatar
Tatiana Morand
Published on September 17, 2019

Some nonprofits seem to get thousands of likes and new followers on Instagram effortlessly.

And while it may seem difficult to get the same results, it’s totally possible if you know what the important features to include are.

If you’re struggling to get results (engagement, followers, and so on), or are simply starting from scratch, I’m going to show you the best Instagram strategies for nonprofits that I’ve seen.

If you want to see success on Instagram, here’s everything you need to consider:

One quick note before we get started: I’m assuming that if you’re reading this post, you’ve already created an Instagram account. If not, go check out this guide on how to do so… 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, nonprofit research expert.

The Top 7 Instagram Best Practices for Nonprofits

If you’re only going to read one section in this post… make it this one.

That’s because I’m going to quickly cover the top 7 most important things you should be doing on Instagram to make sure you’re able to see the most results.

Best of all, none of these will take you more than a few minutes each — so if you have your phone open, you can implement them all right now!

1. Make a Business Profile

Here are a few of the advantages to choosing a Business profile over a Personal one:

  • You can add “Nonprofit” to your bio
  • You can have access to more advanced analytics, like number of impressions and reach
  • You can add a phone number, email and location, so it’s easy to get in contact with you
  • You can create Instagram ads
  • You can make a Donate button to add to stories (more on this later)

It’s simple to switch — just click on the gear icon in your bio and then Tap on the Switch to Business Profile option.

2. Connect Instagram and Facebook

Once you’ve switched to a Business profile, you’ll be able to link your Instagram and Facebook pages.

This is yet another advantage of a Business profile, because it means you can then run ads on both platforms simultaneously and see how they perform.

You can also see who follows you on one platform and not the other, and ask them to add you on both.

This way, if you’re sharing different content on each platform, they’ll stay updated no matter where you share.

3. Include a Link in Your Bio

Sometimes the caption of a photo just isn’t quite enough to tell the story you want.

And since you can’t click links in Instagram posts, the space in your bio to put a link is crucial to add more details and to get more engagement on the stories you’re sharing.

By directing your followers to check out the link in your bio, they’ll be able to further engage with your content (and more will do so than if they had to copy and paste a link from your caption into their browser).

In this example from Unicef, they’ve chosen to highlight a Youtube video related to a campaign they’re running.

unicef link in bio instagram

I’ve also seen some organizations use Linktree, an app that allows you to tap on one link that brings users to a choice of other links, as MoMa has done:

moma instagram linktree

This is great for situations in which you want to allow users to look at multiple pieces of content, or have multiple CTAs in your photos.

4. See What Other Content Your Followers Like

To check it out, just go to your notifications, and swipe to the left. You’ll see a screen that looks like this:

Instagram likes

This can help you see what accounts might also engage with you, or see if there are other types of content you should be testing out.

(You can see that I follow a lot of food accounts… so maybe this means I should be posting more food photos myself!)

5. Tag, Tag, Tag

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!

6. Make Use of the Donate Sticker

If you’re sharing an appeal on your Instagram, you might as well make it as easy as possible for your supporters to donate without even leaving the platform.

That’s where adding a Donate Sticker to your Instagram Stories comes in.

Verified nonprofits are able to create stickers, which their supporters will be able to add to their Stories in order to raise donations for them.

Screen Shot 2019-09-17 at 2.45.03 PM

Image source: Later 

To allow supporters to do this, you’ll need to have connected Instagram and Facebook, as well as having a Business profile as I mentioned above (just another reason why doing so is important!).

If you’re interested in setting this up and want a full guide, click here.

7. Use Other Apps to Edit Photos.

This isn’t a must-do, but many creators find that using only the Instagram native editing options just don’t quite cut it.

Other photo editing apps offer much more flexibility — and different filters — so that when users are scrolling mindlessly through the app, they’ll recognize your profile.

A few of my personal favourites are:

Who to Target to Get the Most Likes

Once you have the basics set up, it’s time to decide: who are you hoping to target with your Instagram?

You can only start creating content that will resonate with your audience once you know exactly who you’re hoping to engage.

This is crucial because if your audience doesn’t find your content relevant, they won’t take action. For example, a lower-income audience might not be as likely to donate to your charity or nonprofit, so to combat this you could create content to tell them that even the smallest contribution counts—or that sharing their time is equally as important.

The same goes for interests.

Let’s say a large chunk of your audience is very interested in sports. In that case, they’re more likely to react to your content if it includes sports-related imagery.

To make sure you’re creating the right kind of content, try to build a few different audience personas. Each one should outline:

  • Ages
  • Demographics
  • Occupations
  • Interests and hobbies

…and any other information about your target audience that will help you create content that resonates with them.

To put together these personas, start by talking to your current supporters. You could send out an informal poll asking them what kind of content they’d like to see from you, or just see which of your current social media posts have performed best. You can also check out their social media feeds, to see what kind of content they’re sharing and reacting to.

How to Make the Most of Hashtags

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

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.

In this section, I’ll show you exactly how to do each of these things.

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 Amount of Hashtags to Use

This a highly debated subject.

Should you go for 30 hashtags per post, 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 many find better success with.

As marketing guru Neil Patel points out, using hashtags in your caption often clutters your description and call to action and can actually put people off.

The better option is to put your hashtags in a comment, like Water for People does, a non-profit aiming to bring clean water all over the globe. Here’s an example of how this looks:

The Best Way to Find Hashtag Success

From what I’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 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.

What to Post to Maximize Success

Hashtags can help you get more traffic, but what you do with your Instagram posts determines if that traffic engages with your account and stays.

While there are many Instagram strategies for nonprofits to maximize engagement, the content you post is by far the most important.

In this section, I’ll cover three types of posts that always engage people well on Instagram.

IGers love quotes

“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:

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.


Don’t be all about business, all the time

How well do you know your target audience? What are their likes and dislikes?

Sometimes, to get people’s attention and get them involved, it helps to post some fun content – just to help you reach more of your target audience and hopefully keep them around for longer, so that they get involved in your nonprofit.

Something fun can be a picture of a cute dog that someone brought to the office one day, candid shots of your team from around the office, or something you know your audience is interested in.

For example, DoSomething (the global movement for good) received over 1,000 likes (they usually get a few hundred), by posting this Stranger Things image.

While it was a bit of a risk, the post ended up connecting with fans of DoSomething on a deeper level, proving that sometimes letting your hair down can have a positive effect.

Behind the scenes pics and videos

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 in the 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:

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.

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

How to Get Your Fans and Followers More Involved

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.

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

Another similar example comes from NEDA (the National Eating Disorder Association) during their Halloween campaign.

At a time when people usually gorge themselves on treats, those who have eating disorders might find themselves alienated. NEDA, instead, found a way to boost morale and provide some much-needed motivation with their campaign.

They simply asked their Instagram followers to share their costumes using the #NEDATreat hashtag with the promise that they’d re-gram (post) a few select entries.

The response from their followers was fantastic (nearly 60 people participated) and provided a whole week’s worth of instagram posts for the nonprofit.

Another big plus of using UCG?

Fans love being reposted by the accounts they follow, which could potentially turn them into better brand ambassadors for your nonprofit!

What’s the Deal With Instagram Stories?

Instagram Stories are a great way to share content instantly.

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 — and since they disappear after 24 hours, 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 can help engage younger audiences like millennials and Gen Z.

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

And you don’t just have to use static photos, either.

Instagram Stories can include GIFs, polls, and many other stickers — as well as hashtags, tags, and locations like standard feed posts.

This means it’s possible to engage even more with your followers than you can with normal posts.

Here’s a great example from TED: 

ted instagram stories

Image credit: Whole Whale

And one final bonus: if you have more than ten thousand followers, you can include a link directly from your Instagram story with the “Swipe Up” function.

This means you can direct users to your website or to content posted elsewhere .

And considering 15%–25% of people swipe up on a link in branded Stories, if you have this feature available, you might as well use it!

Read More: How Nonprofits Can Use Instagram Stories to Raise Awareness For Their Cause

Keep Stories Around A Little Longer With This Trick

Have you seen the line of circular photos beneath Instagram bios, just like the ones on DoSomething’s account?

do something instagram highlights

Those are Highlights — stories that have been saved and added, so that followers old and new can watch them past the original 24 hour timeline.

There are a few ways you can use this space:

  • They’re great to promote recurring events, so that your supporters can see what the last event looked like and be inspired to sign up for the next one.
  • They’re also the perfect place to share updates on ongoing campaigns. That way, anyone who’s new to your Instagram account can easily tap into them and see everything that’s happened, all in one spot.
  • Finally, they make it easy to save any videos or images that are evergreen and that you think supporters might want to refer back to or watch again.

The Secret to Success on Instagram

While you can gain a lot of success from the strategies I covered in this post, and from following best practices like:

  • Post new content consistently to keep your audience engaged
  • Use hashtags strategically to reach a wider audience and gain more engagement on your posts
  • Diversify your content to keep followers interested and engaged
  • Post Stories as often as you can so that followers stay in the loop as well as scheduling them for maximum engagement

…the best advice I can give is to try not to obsess with the number of likes and followers your account has.

If you want to grow a targeted, engaged following and community, quality over quantity wins every time.

Stay true to your organization’s voice, and keep sharing the content that matters to you, and you’ll see genuine growth.

If you’d like to see more examples of nonprofits crushing their Instagram strategies, check out this post by CommunityBoost.

And if you want to learn more about marketing your organization to young members on Instagram, please join our on-demand webinar with Amanda Myers, nonprofit research expert.

This post was originally written by Lilach Bullock, content marketing expert, but has since been updated for comprehensiveness and to reflect changes in Instagram’s interface. 



The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!