When it comes to nonprofit social media marketing, the idea is the same as social media marketing for any type of business.

The challenge, however, is that we tend to think that everything is different, simply because the organization we're working with is nonprofit.

What I've discovered is that the difference between traditional marketing and nonprofit marketing isn't in the tactics, but rather in the ultimate goal. Traditional marketing aims to increase sales and revenue. Nonprofit marketing aims to inspire and motivate.

In both cases, marketing is an attempt to broadcast the message to a larger audience. Nonprofits can engage their social media audiences with all the same creativity, energy, and calls to action of any other business.

Nonprofits face significant challenges in social media marketing. The time they have to spend on social media marketing is limited. According to data from one survey, around half of all nonprofits spend two hours or less each week on marketing. Due to the size and limited resources of nonprofits, it's most common to have a single person in charge of the social media efforts. Most significantly, the vast majority of nonprofits do not have a documented strategy, do not measure their social media efforts, and do not track the social media accounts of their donors and volunteers.

In spite of these shortcomings, there are some nonprofits who are setting an outstanding example in the social media space. I've organized four of these great examples, and provided a list of suggestions that can help you to improve your nonprofit's marketing endeavors.

1. WATERisLIFE--Capturing a trending hashtag

The hashtag "firstworldproblems" is popular and trends on a regular basis. According to data from Keyhole.co, this hashtag has a potential reach of 1.2 million.

WATERisLIFE used this hashtag and the idea behind it to spread their viral video, the First World Problems Anthem. The video features people in situations of serious need repeating common #firstworldproblems, for example, "I hate it when my phone charger won't reach my bed."

The video highlights the irony of our own problems, placing them into stark relief against the deeper needs of those who lack clean water.

The strategy proved remarkably effective as the video went viral on Facebook and Twitter, expanding WATERisLIFE's reach.

One WATERisLIFE spokesperson explained,

We call it hashtag killer. Not just an attempt to end a hashtag, but to use social media to affect a real change in our world.

Takeaway: Hashtags are an important source of marketing virality and should be used whenever possible.

2. Animal Foundation--Adding convenience to donations

Nonprofits need donations. Engagement on social media is great, but what about the more pressing need of funds?

There are technologies that have risen to the challenge. Charitweet is one tool that allows people to give to a cause directly through Twitter. Similar tools include Goodworld and SnapDonate.

The ease and convenience of Charitweet is what has allowed organizations like Animal Foundation to raise money. An active presence on Twitter combined with regular donation calls to action allows these nonprofits to gain more from their social media efforts.

Takeaway: Provide a convenient way to capture your followers' most valuable form of engagement.

3. Make-A-Wish--Encouraging donations on the most popular platform

Most nonprofits--98% of them--are on Facebook. Facebook represents one of the easiest and most effective ways to take the leap into social media and gain a following.

But facebook is also a challenging platform. Due to the decline in organic reach, many nonprofits have found their engagement rates drop to 2% or less.

Regardless of the decline in reach, nonprofits would do well to optimize their Facebook pages for maximum results.

One way to do this is to follow the example of Make-A-Wish. Make-A-Wish's Facebook page includes three buttons on their cover photo: "Donate Now," "Like," and "Message." The prominence of the "Donate Now" button makes it easy for users to give to the organization.

Donations are how nonprofits survive. Asking for donations on the most popular platform is a smart move.

Takeaway: Identify where users are most likely to engage with your organization, and add a call to action.

4. Human Rights Campaign--Creating a movement through Facebook profile pictures

In the wake of the Paris attack tragedies, millions of Facebook users added a filter overlay of the French flag to their profile pictures. The act of solidarity and support spread rapidly across the social media platform, creating awareness and showcasing concern.

A similar trend exploded in early 2015 when the Supreme Court made a landmark decision regarding marriage equality. HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, exerted a massive effort, encouraging popular support of marriage equality.

The organization's logo--a red equals sign--began to appear on Facebook user's profile photos. Instead of using a photo of themselves, Facebook users changed their photo to the HRC's logo, demonstrating their agreement and support of marriage equality.

The red equals sign image expanded wildly across the social network. Celebrities such as Beyonc, Martha Stewart, and Russell Simmons used the image. Businesses like Kenneth Cole, Bonobos, HBO, and Bud Light also spread the image.

The real power of the campaign was not from celebrity and corporate endorsements alone, but through the millions of everyday Facebook users who changed their profile pictures, thus driving grassroots engagement.

The movement took a massive effort from HRC, but based on the cumulative effect on social networks, it was a success. HRC's campaign earned coverage from nearly every notable news organization--from the Washington Post to The Atlantic--and garnered an impressive number of design and advertising awards.

Takeaway: When opportunity calls for it, engineer your resources to spread your message.


Social media will continue to be one of the most significant ways that nonprofits can drive engagement and spread their message. To guide social media from concept to completion, however, is not easy.

Here's how four organizations have succeeded:

  1. Use trending hashtags to spread your message.
  2. Meet users on their own turf, and make it easy for them to engage.
  3. Call your users to action in prominent places.
  4. Strategize and execute a movement that produces grassroots results.

What social media strategies can your nonprofit use that will create change?