Skip to main content

The Ultimate Social Media Guide for Nonprofits

Author: Tatiana Morand
March 8, 2023
🕑 17 min read

Nonprofit employees are pulled in so many directions at once. Budgets (and resources) are limited, so you have to be picky about how you spend your time and energy. Getting social media for your nonprofit right can be a game changer—but it takes some strategy!

Let’s take this hypothetical example: Kathleen works for a nonprofit and does all their marketing. She knows she should ramp up the nonprofit’s social media presence, but she quickly finds herself overwhelmed. 

Last year, she started accounts with whatever platform seemed to be popular at the time and then posted haphazardly. She’d had a marketing intern last summer who’d taken over social media—but when his term ended, she was back where she started!

Can you relate? It might be easy to put social media on the back burner as a nonprofit. Who has the time to constantly monitor branded social channels? 

But based on recent trends, these platforms are worth your time! One study shows donors aged 18–29 increased the amount they gave during the COVID-19 pandemic. And of those generous donors, 1 in 4 want nonprofits to communicate with them via social media communication.

So, where do you start? Never fear—we’re here to walk you through how to create a strategy and launch social media for your nonprofit.

Pick Your Platforms

Most nonprofits don’t need to be on every single social media platform. For example: 48% of social media platform donors give on Facebook. That’s double the impact of Instagram (24%), and other platforms (at less than 10% each).

Instead, the best social media platforms for nonprofits will depend on the kinds of content you want to share, the audience you hope to reach, and where your supporters are already active.

  • Facebook. Widely used by people of all ages (though teens are the smallest group of users), Facebook is an excellent place to share events, fundraising, images, video, and text. Facebook’s live streaming and story functions continue to gain popularity.
  • Twitter. Character limits make Twitter best for quick updates, discussions, and interactions with the media. Nonprofits that do a lot of advocacy or activism may also find Twitter a good platform for organizing and communicating about actions or running hashtag campaigns.
  • Instagram. Instagram is a highly visual platform, so it’s perfect for photos, videos, and impactful captions.
  • LinkedIn. Designed for professional networking, LinkedIn connects you with talent when hiring and can help reach out to corporate donors and learn more about your existing donors’ careers and connections.
  • TikTok. A video-based platform popular with teens, users record and share 15–60 second video clips set to music. Users also participate in challenges and projects that benefit nonprofits by raising awareness and funds.

So, choose a couple of platforms that best suit your content and audience and focus solely on those. That strategy will instantly make social media management more manageable.

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

Start with strategy

As we mentioned above, one of the common mistakes nonprofits make with launching social media is jumping on a platform because they think they have to, then posting things randomly. In that case, social media doesn’t really do anything for them, and they become discouraged or overwhelmed.

You’re much more likely to be successful with social media if you start with a strategy. It doesn’t have to be incredibly complex, but your nonprofit social media strategy should, at minimum, include:

A Clear Purpose and Goals

The first step in creating a social media marketing strategy for your nonprofit is deciding what you want to achieve. Why do you want to use social media in the first place? What do you hope to accomplish? 

Some organizations set broad goals such as “raising awareness”—but that’s pretty hard to track. Instead, make your goal more focused and think about how you’d be able to report on it. Does “raising awareness” mean increasing the number of people who share each post, or the number of people who click through to your website?

A “SMART” goal format can help you set some tangible goals. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific: Layout precisely what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Measurable: Instead of a vague target like, “be better at social media” try “post X times a week” or “increase our number of followers by X%.”
  • Attainable: If you’re a one-person marketing/fundraising department, you shouldn’t have the same goals as someone with a staff of ten. Your time and budget will influence what you can get done, so set your goals accordingly.
  • Relevant: Is your goal in line with what your organization needs and your social media purpose? If your primary purpose is to educate your followers, your goal shouldn’t be about fundraising numbers.
  • Timely: When will you know you’ve reached your goal? How long will you try a strategy before evaluating it? Your goal should have a calendar date on it.

For example, you could aim to gain 100 new members over three months from a specific campaign. Or maybe your goal is to gain enough donations in a single, month-long campaign to complete some badly needed office renovations.

Example of SMART Goals

A Target Audience

Successful social media marketing targets very specific audiences. So: Who are you trying to reach? Look at your current followers and supporters, and consider their interests. What kind of content are they the most responsive to? Which platforms are they active on?

Figuring out your target audience will help you focus your social media posts on platforms and topics they care about.

Lots of organizations find it helpful to create personas—fictional characters who represent the people you’re trying to communicate with. You may already use donor personas in your fundraising communications, and if so, you won’t be surprised to find that they can be useful in social media, too. 

To create personas for your nonprofit, start by looking at your existing members and supporters, and researching the people you would ideally like to reach. Ask questions like:

  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What kind of job do they have?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • How do they prefer to communicate?

To get a sense of what this looks like in practice, let’s check back in with our friend, Kathleen. She adapted the donor personas she was already using to target her social media, focusing on the fictitious “Angela Activist” and “Penelope Programs.”

Angela, Kathleen imagined, was a 20-something woman who cared about the cause. She was ready to hit the streets, protest, or host a letter-writing campaign, and values content like news articles, online petitions, and photos from political events. She’d be interested in sharing cause-based content as an advocate.

Penelope, on the other hand, isn’t very political. She’s in her forties, established in her career, and interested in the organization’s programs and wanted to know more about what the organization was doing to help the community hear their stories. While Penelope appreciated the larger picture, her focus was local. She’d value stories from the field, videos showing the work in action, and volunteer updates. In addition, she’d be interested in sharing heart-warming content.

A Schedule

What’s the best time to post on social media? There’s no perfect formula! In general, consistency and quality outweigh raw frequency—it’s better to post high-quality content once a week than several random posts, followed by gaps of silence. 

When creating your schedule, take these two things into consideration: 

  1. Choose your frequency. Will you be posting regularly, or more often around events? Are there major holidays or events coming up you want to piggyback on for traffic, or do you want to avoid them in case you get drowned out?
  2. Choose your optimal days and times to post. Maximize the number of people who see your posts. Each social media platform has different points in the week when they receive the most visitors. LinkedIn, for example, has lots of visitors on mid-week afternoons, but very few on the weekends.

Sprout Social has a helpful guide to the best times to post on social media channels.

Not available during those peak times? No problem. Try one of these social media tools to send and schedule posts at specific times.

How much of your social media content should be promotional? A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 split—80% of posts should provide interesting or educational content for your readers, while the final 20% can ask for donations or promote events.

Channel Integration

Social media is only one part of a broader content marketing and or communications strategy. In addition to your social platforms, you probably communicate with your audience on:

  • Email
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Direct mail
  • Print newsletter

Make these channels work together to tell a cohesive story and engage your supporters.

Imagine you see a hilarious interaction between a dog and a pigeon on your walk in the park. The way you’d talk about it on the phone with your friend is different from the way you’d tweet about it, right? If you had a video, you might post it on Instagram with a single caption, but email it to someone with a longer note. The story would be the same, but telling it would be different depending on the communication channel.

It’s the same way on your communication channels. Your nonprofit story will change form from email to direct mail to social media but remain the same in essence. 

Maybe your story is, “Kids learn better when they eat breakfast. In that case, you might:

  • Share a note from a volunteer at your school breakfast program via email
  • Post a picture of breakfast on Instagram
  • Tweet stats about child hunger on Twitter
  • Invite people to dedicate their birthdays to raising money for breakfast on Facebook
  • Post a static page on your website about your program
  • Send a longer fundraising appeal that tells the story of one child who benefitted from your program

Wherever your audience encounters you, the message is reinforced.

A Social Media Policy

Who should speak for your organization on social media? How can you control what’s being said about your group and your cause? If you’re not sure, it may be time to work out a social media policy for your staff and volunteers who blog and chat and comment online, where the personal and professional lines often blur.

“The reality is that no organization—either for-profit or non-profit—has control over its image any longer,” said the Executive Director of Bailey WorkPlay Chris Bailey.  “Any membership association or fundraising nonprofit that thinks otherwise will find out painfully that irrelevance is perhaps the greatest cost of all.”

A social media policy is a collection of guidelines for everyone who uses your organization’s social media accounts. It can include:

  • Roles and responsibilities (who will post what?)
  • What kinds of content you share
  • The voice and tone you aspire to
  • Your policy on responding to comments
  • How to handle conflicts on social media
  • How you handle data and privacy

If you have no public communications policy in place that you can build on, however, it’s helpful to look at a few samples of social media policies from a variety of organizations, such as these:

You can also read further on how to develop your social media policy via these additional resources:

Best Practices for Posting

What exactly should you post on social media? It will depend a lot on your mission and your audience. However, these five best practices will help you develop engaging content, no matter what kind of organization you are in.

1. Make It Visual

Social media uses text, of course, but its real power lies in visual content.

Visual content includes graphics, videos, and photographs. It’s the backbone of platforms like Instagram, but it’s essential on other platforms, too. People are more likely to engage with, remember, and see content with some visual element. 

Taking photos and videos at events is a great source of visual content, but don’t forget infographics, illustrations, and slides are all visual, too.

2. Provide Value

Why do supporters follow you? What do they “get” from interacting with you on social media? Pay attention to the kind of posts your audience interacts with, and give them more of those. Ask yourself, “What’s the value to followers?” with every post.

This post from the World Wildlife Fund gives animal lovers the content they crave, reinforcing the reasons they follow WWF.

3. Ask Questions

Nonprofits using social media successfully don’t just broadcast their news — they start a conversation. Ask your audience for their feedback, opinions, and ideas. Then, invite them to engage with your social media through questions, polls, and surveys. It’s more compelling for supporters and helps you learn more about them.

Even a light-hearted conversation can point to your mission, like the Tree House Humane Society’s questions for the long-haired cat lovers of the world.

4. Respond to Your Audience

Social media is interactive. When someone asks a question or makes a comment, they’re hoping your organization will respond. So, make an effort to respond promptly, even if it’s just, “Thanks for your feedback!” or “That’s so good to hear!”

5. Be Authentic

Social media allows you to showcase only your brightest moments. Like many Instagram influencers, some nonprofits keep their social media presence superficially flawless. It’s tempting to do so, but if you never dig deeper, you’ll miss out on authenticity.

Your nonprofit’s social media is a chance to be authentic and give your followers a real inside look at your work, the people doing it, and the change you’re making. 

While you should remain professional, don’t be afraid to show who you are as an organization — talk about what’s bringing you joy, driving you mad, and keeping you going. It’s much more interesting and authentic than a perfect shiny image.

Nonprofit Fundraising on Social Media

Social media gives nonprofits an unprecedented opportunity to reach new audiences and engage with their existing ones — which makes it a great fit for fundraising. From #GivingTuesday campaigns to Facebook fundraisers, there’s a lot to experiment with.

Fundraising on social media works best when you tailor your content to the platforms you choose, like focusing on images for Instagram vs text and video on Facebook. It’s particularly well-suited to fundraising that directly involves your supporters, like crowdfunding and peer-to-peer campaigns.

Analytics and Tracking for Nonprofits

When your nonprofit is active on social media, you’ll get a lot of data to analyze. First, consider your SMART goals: What are you hoping to achieve? Then, track your progress as you work toward it. Next, consider adding some or all of these data points to your list:


Which social platforms drive traffic to your website? How much? When?


  • How many followers do you have on each platform?
  • How many people are reached by each post?


  • Email Subscribers
  • Mentions
  • Comments
  • Retweets
  • Facebook Likes
  • Shares

5 Top Social Media Trends

Social media is ever-changing. New platforms emerge, established ones change their algorithms, and users find new ways to engage with content. But these social media trends for nonprofits are holding on for the long haul, so it’s wise to familiarize yourself since they won’t be falling out of favor any time soon.

1. Everybody Still Loves Video

Video streaming accounts for a huge portion of all web traffic, and demand for it continues to grow. From YouTube to Netflix to Facebook live stream, people want to watch videos, so make sure you include video in your social media strategy.

2. Live Streaming is a Game Changer

If you’re not familiar with live streaming, it means that you’re recording and broadcasting video content at the same time, and often directly to the social media platform itself.

You can invite your followers to the livestream in advance, by letting them know the time and date you’re going live or even by sending out an event invitation.

And even if they don’t catch the invite, your followers will usually get a notification when you go live video so they have a chance to tune in.

As the host, you can also see people’s comments and reactions and respond to them in real-time, so it feels like more of an interactive experience, and on some platforms, you can even invite others to join in on your live video so it streams both your screens at once.

As we mentioned before, you can’t realistically sink a lot of time in each platform. To help you choose, let’s go through the details live video streaming on each platform:

  • Facebook. You can opt to livestream from your page, in a group, or to an event, and do extras like add a description, check into a location, or tag friends. Your followers get a notification when you start, and if you’re a registered charity or nonprofit, you can raise money for a cause during your live video.
  • Instagram. Unlike Facebook, you have to go live on Instagram from the mobile app, not your desktop. When you go live, any of your followers online receive a notification, and your live video will then be pushed to the front of their Instagram Stories’ feed.
  • YouTube. YouTube Live is a great way to reach your YouTube subscribers in real-time, and can be done via mobile, desktop, or third-party tools. To use YouTube Live, verify your account with a phone number and ensure you have no restrictions. To livestream from a mobile device, you also need at least 1,000 channel subscribers.
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn only accepts a limited number of broadcasters, and they’re looking for individuals or organizations who will commit to producing “compelling and interactive content on a consistent basis”. If you do get approved, LinkedIn Lives have to be conducted using third-party streaming tools
  • Twitch. This is the top video streaming platform for gamers, so it’s more of a niche platform and might not make sense for every nonprofit. But you can set up your Twitch livestream to raise money for a cause (or work with a popular streamer to do so), making it a platform worth looking into for anyone trying to fundraise.
  • TikTok. To livestream on TikTok, you need at least 1,000 followers. Unfortunately, TikTok Lives aren’t recorded or saved — they’re simply a live broadcast that disappears when it ends. So, while this option might help you reach a broader audience, it’s not the best for longevity.

3. The Popularity of Ephemeral Content Continues

Time-limited content, like Instagram and Facebook stories and Snapchat snaps, is very popular. A short video or photo storytelling series is quickly digestible, with the added benefit of implying urgency—it’s going away soon, so you’d better watch it now.

Nonprofits can use ephemeral content to highlight an issue, quickly tell a story, or update followers on progress or projects.

Instagram allows you to pin important stories to the top of your account if there’s something you don’t want to lose. For example, the American Red Cross features several stories about a range of topics on its Instagram.

4. Augmented Reality Continues to Grow

Augmented Reality (AR) is the integration of virtual elements into the real world. It usually relies on a smartphone or tablet, using the camera to import the “real” part, Think Pokémon Go, or a Snapchat filter.

Nonprofits can use AR to gamify fundraising and create new experiences for their donors. Look at how charity: water used AR to illustrate a girl’s journey to get water for her family.

5. Personalization is Expected

When Netflix knows which new movies your donors will like, and Amazon knows when they’re running out of dish soap, you have to keep up by personalizing your communications. The days of sending one mass message to everyone have come to an end; now, donors and members expect you to know their names, preferences, and interests. 

Software can help you keep track and offer every donor a personal experience.

5 Top Nonprofit Social Media Examples

Now that you know how to get set up and are abreast of some of the major trends, let’s get inspired with a few stellar examples of nonprofits that excel at social media.

1. Truth Initiative

The #ThisIsQuitting public service campaign encourages people to commit to quitting vaping. First, they text to take the pledge and get education and support. Then, they make TikTok videos of themselves destroying their vape pens. The campaign attracted tens of thousands of people.

@dymesismineWas this painful to watch?😳🤔 ##ThisIsQuitting ##fyp ##fypシ ##fy ##dontletthisflop ##iswearttogodiwillikeandfollow ##share

♬ Dance2Ditch – truthorange

Why It Works:

  • It uses a youth platform to reach a youth audience
  • It’s built on participation, giving participants several things to do
  • It asks participants to use TikTok the way they’re already using it (making tiny music-backed clips) 

2. St. Baldrick’s

The children’s cancer charity uses its Instagram to celebrate volunteers and kids, educate about cancer, and introduce its staff and programs. Yet, it manages to do all these things in an upbeat way.

Why It Works:

  • The content is highly visual, with photos and graphics.
  • It’s celebratory and high-energy in tone, even when taking on tough topics.
  • It creates a community–volunteers, staff, and followers all unite in support of the honored kids

3. Water Is Life

This social media video from Water Is Life is an excellent example of how stirring a simple video can be. It’s just two people in the field, inviting the audience to join them on the journey.

Why It Works:

  • No bells or whistles, just two concerned people sharing a real story.
  • A clear call to action about what they want followers to do in response. 

4. Keep A Breast

Keep A Breast enlists supporters to raise awareness for their cause with the #CheckYourSelfie campaign. Supporters are asked to post a picture of themselves with three fingers to their breast, symbolizing the importance of early detection and self-examination to prevent and treat breast cancer. They use a hashtag to unite the posts and share followers’ posts on their social media.

Why It Works:

  • Supporters are asked to do one simple thing
  • The hashtag directly relates to the cause
  • Like the Truth Initiative’s TikTok videos, this campaign asks followers to use social media in a way they’re already using (posting selfies).

5. Crisis Text Line

Crisis Text Line does a great job with Twitter. They communicate their important message in the style of the platform, retweet their followers, and comment on topical issues.

Election season is here and with it, a lot of stress and anxiety. If you’re experiencing anxious thoughts or feelings, text SHARE to 741741 to reach us. #IowaCaucuses

— Crisis Text Line (@CrisisTextLine) February 3, 2020

A list of reasons why you don’t deserve happiness and proper mental health support:

— Crisis Text Line (@CrisisTextLine) February 20, 2020

Why It Works:

  • They make the most of Twitter’s brief style
  • They tie their mission to current events and trends
  • They use memes and jokes, which are also part of Twitter’s style

Get Ready for Social Media Success!

If you want to find success with social media like our example orgs above, understand that it isn’t magic. It’s simply a matter of following best practices, creating valuable content and engaging with your audience. These things are achievable for most organizations, regardless of budget or size.

If you’d like to take the next step towards nonprofit social media success, check out Julia Campbell and WildApricot’s free webinar 5 Ways Nonprofits are Actually Attracting New Members with Social Media.

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!