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The complete guide to nonprofit social media: Strategy and design tips for success

social media for non profits

No matter the industry you're a part of, social media plays a significant role in growing the awareness of your business. And when it comes to nonprofits, social media is an integral part of engaging the community in your initiative. Below, we give you six nonprofit social media tips to follow when building your social media presence this year.

The Global Web Index 2018 report(opens in a new tab or window) reveals that the average time spent on social media in 2017 was just over two hours every day, so in terms of making an impact, it's definitely where you want your nonprofit to be thriving.

While social media(opens in a new tab or window) is a competitive landscape, it also provides an opportunity for nonprofits to tell their story, engage their supporters, and drive donations.

In this post, we’ll guide nonprofits through the process of building an effective digital marketing strategy from scratch, with or without the backing of professional design resources. We’ll even invite you to check out Canva’s nonprofit resource page(opens in a new tab or window), with a ton of testimonials from leading NGOs.

Without further adieu, let’s get cracking on that social media strategy:

01. Determine your key performance goals


Art by Matt Stevens

Before you can execute a successful social media strategy, you must clearly identify what you’re aiming to achieve. As a shortcut, Hubspot’s(opens in a new tab or window) identified the top 7 reasons nonprofits use social media:

  1. Sharing news
  2. Brand recognition
  3. Education about the cause and mission
  4. Fundraising
  5. Volunteer recruitment
  6. Donor recognition
  7. Employee recruitment

Once you’ve identified what you’ll be using social media to achieve this goal, it’s important to implement measures for success.

Your social media success KPI should reflect your nonprofit’s success in creating long-term, sustained interactions with audiences, so using metrics to accurately measure the conversion and retention of customers along this journey will be most beneficial.

For instance, the number of views on a Facebook post might reflect an increase in awareness or the number of clicks might reflect an interest in your cause and donation dollars capture the conversion of new customers.

Putting together a good plan for your social media campaign will make it easier for you to proceed. Compile all your research into a project proposal(opens in a new tab or window) template. Try a proposal template like the Dark Circle Photo Modern Marketing Proposal(opens in a new tab or window) for easy reference.

02. Choose the channel that’s right for you

Art by Jenny Famularcano

Once your audience is clearly defined, you’ll then need to know where they hang out before you can start communicating with them. It’s not only important to understand where your users are congregating, but you also need to know where they’re most active and most vocal.

While it can be tempting to be everywhere at once, focus on two to three active platforms. Too many nonprofits start by creating accounts on multiple platforms, only for them to become inactive in a matter of months. Not responding to your followers damages the brand more than not having a presence on the platform at all.

Use tools like BuzzSumo(opens in a new tab or window) to better understand where your target market is most active and what content they’re likely to share.

One of the more popular social media platforms today is Instagram, and many have been using it to promote their brand or advocacy. Try Purple Pink Quote Women's Rights Social Media Post or White Black Rescue Awareness Dogs Instagram Post(opens in a new tab or window).

03. Create Your Content Strategy

Content Strategy

Art by Matt Carlson

You’re already three-quarters of the way there: You’ve done your audience research and understood the channels most likely to reach your target audience.

Now it’s time to focus on content.

Without a framework for what to say and a plan for how and when to say it, you risk leaving your audiences confused (best case scenario), or them ignoring you (worst case scenario). Who wants that?

Here are 5 quick tips to help you build a strong content strategy for your nonprofit:

Content strategy tip 1: Know your voice

You work at your nonprofit because you’re passionate about its cause, right? So speak that cause. Everything you say in your posts should ‘sound’ like your brand and reflect the image you wish to portray.

Content strategy tip 2: Create a pattern of frequency

Pattern of Frequency

Art by Terra Spitzner

Creating a calendar that sets out what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it allows you to plan for when your audience is most likely to listen.

Make sure your content is relevant to where people are in their lives and the season. Automating your content publishing also ensures your nonprofit maintains presence without tying up resources.

Tools like Hootsuite(opens in a new tab or window) and Buffer(opens in a new tab or window) are some of the social media management tools(opens in a new tab or window) that can help you to manage your social media schedule and listen to your audience’s feedback.

If you’re after a free solution, managing your schedule in daily/weekly/monthly folders (on your computer or in Dropbox(opens in a new tab or window)) works well too.

Content strategy tip 3: Understand your audience behavior

Why would your audience ‘follow’ or ‘like’ you? What kind of person is going to click the ‘donate’ button, add a comment or share your content with their friends? It’s so important to make sure you’re talking to your audience, not at them. Ask questions, invite feedback, tell a story, but make it a conversation.

Visual imagery often creates emotional triggers that words sometimes cannot. Use high-quality photographs, images, graphics, videos, and hashtags. You may be thinking, “But quality is expensive!” It doesn’t have to be. There are many free stock image websites(opens in a new tab or window) available.

Content Strategy Tip 4: Solve your audience’s problems

Art by Sylvia Yang

Nonprofits are used to asking for things from their audience. Whether it’s to promote a cause, sign a petition, volunteer or give a donation.

Social media can be used to solve people’s problems, but it can also empower people to help achieve your goals. By making useful information easily accessible to others, you can build a reciprocal relationship that builds trust. All of this leads to greater audience retention.

Content strategy tip 5: Be true

This is by far the most important tip. The best way to engage with your audience is to be human, just like in the real world. Loud and obnoxious people who trumpet all their achievements at parties never get respect.

Good content isn’t superficial and viewers will pick up on insincerity in a heartbeat, so if you’re honest, relevant and true to your cause, your audience is far more likely to engage with your content and recommend you to their friends.

Keep your content organized by creating a plan. A template like Minimalist Grid General Daily Planner(opens in a new tab or window) helps you maximize your content and its reach.

04. Engagement, engagement, engagement!


Art by Brave People

If there’s one secret to social media, this is it. There’s no ROI without engagement.

Let’s take another real-world example. You’re at a dinner party and sitting on either side of you are two people you’ve never met before.

The girl on your right introduces herself and asks you questions about where you grew up, your hobbies and relationships to mutual friends at the dinner. When answering her questions she looks you in the eye, undistracted, and often chimes in with common interests.

The guy on your left introduces himself and immediately tells you why he’s at the party, about his week, and why his friends think he’s so funny. He doesn’t ask you a single question or establishes whether you have mutual friends or interests.

Who are you going to be more interested in continuing the conversation with, and who are you going to escape at your first opportunity?

The same goes for social media. Posting for the sake of posting simply won’t get you the results you’re after. The goal is to capture the attention of your audience and motivate them to listen, relate, respond and, hopefully, share.

Engagement tip 1: Identify the trigger points

Trigger Points

Jay Quercia

The first step to engaging your audience is identifying the types of content they respond to. You’ll need to do a bit of research and testing to achieve this. See how other similar organizations are successfully engaging their audiences.

Using keyword searches and hashtags can help determine the popular topics and content that draws your audience’s attention.

Once you know what they’re looking for, be explorative. Try various content formats, topics and headlines to identify the material that generates attention and creates conversation and clicks.

Engagement tip 2: Invite conversation

Just like in the real-world example above, people are much more likely to engage when asking questions or inviting feedback. Whether you publish surveys, seek advice, start a dialogue, or promote a contest, motivate your audience to get involved.

The very essence of social media is just that, being social. While your tone may be more formal on other channels, social media is a particularly good place to cultivate a personable brand voice that helps your supporters feel connected. Don’t be afraid to use humor here either.

Sharing exposes your content to channels you wouldn’t otherwise be able to penetrate. Make your posts easy to share by using imagery, infographics, and short links. Take the time to respond when people share their thoughts with you (you’d be surprised how many people miss out on that.).

Engagement tip 3: Measure your results and repeat

Repeat Results

Art by Sam Mountain

There’s no point trying out all of these different strategies without tracking your efforts and learning what successfully engaged your audience and what didn’t. Engagement will often be aligned with conversions, but be disciplined in your approach to understanding engaging material.

To encourage their followers to consider the importance of solar power, Greenpeace(opens in a new tab or window) posted a tweet that simply posed a question. Although one could argue this question is rhetorical, what makes this such a powerful caption is that it’s encouraging others for their opinion and their point of view.

What’s more important than the 136 likes is the level of engagement from users. This post was retweeted 135 times and multiple comments were made. It would have been even better if Greenpeace had replied to some of these comments.

05. Track and measure your results

Track and Measure

Art by Cosmin Capitanu

So far in this article, we’ve discussed that social media can be an extraordinarily effective marketing tool, but it can also be a tremendous time sink for nonprofits that don’t monitor the success/failure of their campaigns.

While keeping an eye on followers, shares, and likes gives some insight, there are other metrics that are far more important, but often ignored.

Miss these, and your ability to drive major performance results from your social media campaigns will decline significantly.

So what metrics should you look for?

We’ve identified already that the primary goal of your social media campaign should be boosting customer engagement and brand awareness, so you’ll want to monitor metrics that provide valuable insights into these facets.

It’s also important with each campaign to ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve. Is it to attract donations, signups to your newsletter or perhaps conference attendees?

Tracking performance and demonstrating results will show the leaders of your nonprofit the importance of investing the time and resources into social media.

Metric 1: Brand sentiment

Brand Sentiment

Art by Andrew Embury

When it comes to social media, all publicity isn’t good publicity. Negative consumer sentiment can destroy your brand in a short time. Keep an eye on people’s comments and replies as well as how they’re sharing your posts. And if you want to perform sentiment analysis en masse, employ a technique such as web scraping(opens in a new tab or window) to extract brand mentions from across your social media platforms.

Having a plan for how you’ll respond to negative responses is just as important as avoiding it altogether.

Google also has a free tool called Google Alerts(opens in a new tab or window).

Metric 2: Lead or conversion growth

In social psychology, attribution is the process of explaining the causes of behavior and events. Social media is no different, it’s critical to understand how the things you’re saying are causing people to respond.

While followers and mentions can be a good indicator of overall brand awareness, it provides little information about how certain conversations drive particular actions.

Marketo(opens in a new tab or window) and Convertro(opens in a new tab or window) do a great job of measuring how many social interactions it takes before one of your prospects become a customer (however you choose to define “customer”).

This kind of information helps define what a good campaign looks like to your audience and how to better allocate your marketing resources towards successful social strategies.

Metric 3: Klout score

Klout has become an increasingly popular tool for measuring social engagement. Klout effectively measures if your marketing efforts are resulting in better brand recognition or higher perceived authority.

It’s also valuable to track other organizations’ scores as an indication of how effectively they’re engaging with their social media followers.

Metric 4: Inbound links and tracking codes

Call to Action

Canva Design School

When using links in your social media campaigns as a call to action, it’s important to track them through to your website, donation page, or blog post.

After a successful campaign, you may notice that hits to your site increase. If you can identify these surges and tie them to specific social activities, you’ll gain significant insight into which of your campaigns have made the biggest difference.

Most quality analytics tools will tell you where your clicks come from, but you can also use tools like Google UTM Tracker(opens in a new tab or window) or Bitlt’s(opens in a new tab or window) URL shortening tool to track unique campaigns across multiple channels and monitor their overall success.

Make it easy to keep track of how your campaign is going with templates like Charity Infographic(opens in a new tab or window) and Green Photo Hunger Infographic(opens in a new tab or window).

To Conclude


Wattle and Daub

No matter the size of your nonprofit there is no doubt that by following these nonprofit social media tips and integrating them into your social media strategy, you will effectively increase awareness, engagement, and retention for your brand.

Social media is both an art and a science. Whatever phase in your social media marketing journey that you’re on, there’s no doubt it will be beneficial to learn the various tips, tricks, and tools discussed in this article.

Over time, you will learn what content gets your community talking and how to fine-tune your nonprofit’s social media strategy to get the best possible results.

But most importantly, have fun doing it. Set reasonable expectations and understand that building a sustainable social media strategy is a long-term game. Like any great relationship, it’s all about communication over time, and there’s no better time than now to get started.

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