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While 78% of nonprofit professionals say social media is their top marketing channel, only 18% of supporters report first engaging with a nonprofit on social channels. However, 55% of people who engage with a nonprofit on social media end up taking an action, whether they donate, volunteer, or share the nonprofit’s message.
When creating your social media content, the numbers show you must aim for engagement over all other metrics. To help, we talked with two social media experts who create posts that garner engagement from tens of thousands of individuals.
Below, we’ll discuss 10 tips they share to drive user engagement, connect with your audience, and reflect current events. They also touch on how to approach social media engagement gracefully during difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and movement for racial equity.
Meet Natalie Bui, Illustrator and Co-Founder of SHIFT
Natalie Bui is the co-founder of SHIFT, a racial and gender equity consulting firm driven to shift the culture of complacency at work and in our personal lives.
“Our goal is to modernize how people talk about equity and inclusion, and tie it back to what this historical moment is calling for: racial justice. We’ve seen social media as a way to step into anti-racist practices with integrity and responsibility, using it as a way to educate folks, design tools to spark the conversations, and equip people with more vocabulary to talk about institutional racism.”
In her concurring role as an illustrator, Natalie’s graphics aim to encourage critical conversations around social justice. Many of her designs create compelling social media posts on her personal accounts, as well as those of SHIFT and other organizations with which she partners.
Throughout her tips, she stresses the importance of asking ourselves: What does it mean to talk about social media engagement with integrity?
Natalie believes organizations and individuals can use social media as a way to invite more people into a movement, but that it is vital to balance growth in social capital during times of trauma and pain.
“I always want to tie social media back to stepping into anti-racist actions, because that is what makes for meaningful social media engagement that truly resonates with a learning and growing community, given the current cultural climate.”
1. Offer Shareable, Relevant Information
Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many organizations put out blanket statements about their promises to “do better” on issues related to racial equity. However, several of these statements lacked details on exactly how they would improve.
In response, SHIFT created this post for people in search of language for how to talk about racial equity in their places of work.
“People want to do something. One way to do something is to speak up about institutional change. What are the tangible demands you can ask of your organization? What can you advocate for? We wanted to offer individuals a framework to approach this, language to approach this, for them to be able to use it as a guide.”
SHIFT’s social media post examples contain pertinent, timely information that social media users can easily share among each other and with their organizational leadership. In doing so, they created a post that both drove engagement with SHIFT’s mission and centered the power and needs of the current moment.
Nonprofits work on critical issues that inevitably intersect with current events and adjacent movements. As these situations arise, your audience wants to know how you’re addressing them, and they’re hungry to share useful information with their networks to further the cause.
2. Take a Stance on Challenging Issues
When conversations about looting began to deflect from nationwide protests, SHIFT saw an opportunity to challenge the way people talked about it. They wanted to flip the script on the dialogue that looting only occurs in Black and Brown communities. They knew this post could be controversial, but it shows the importance of taking a stand on difficult topics.
“In terms of social media engagement, people are watching what side of history you are on. If you’re going to take a stance, take a stance. Not on the easy issues, but the ones that require more risk—even if it means risking your followers or your base—because it’s what you truly believe in. This sets an example and precedent to hold you and your organization accountable in constructive ways.”
As a nonprofit, your supporters want to see you as innovative and willing to take risks to effect positive change. You can use your social media to communicate your stance on challenging issues, initiate important conversations, and encourage your audience to join or support your cause.
3. Provide Action Items
Social media users are hungry for actionable education right now. In this post, SHIFT provides a simple toolkit for anti-racist action that satiates those desires.
As with many of SHIFT’s social media post examples, this one features a solid background color with clear text rather than the photos many people may associate with Instagram.
“We lean into the text because it’s about designing the tools people need right now. It’s about what tools can we offer rather than showcasing what we’ve done. There’s a lot of dialogue and criticism on how pictures are only showing the optics of things, but not the actions behind it.”
You can use tools like Canva to create text-centered, action-focused social media posts. This type of content can help organically drive engagement by empowering your audience to help further your mission and the other causes with which it intersects.
4. Uplift Other Voices
As the Black Lives Matter movement spread in June, it wasn’t clear in the beginning where people could donate to support the cause. To remedy that situation, Natalie embedded the action of donating directly into her post, centering on other organizations that needed her audience’s support.
During difficult times, it is likely that your nonprofit won’t be able to address all of the gaps within a community. So, identify what your gaps are and then lift up the other organizations that are already doing that work, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
“We need to center it back to the call to action of this time, which right now is supporting Black Lives Matter. If you center your work on yourself and your comfort, your message can look very tone-deaf and detract away from the cultural moment. We need to be acting in solidarity during these times. Lift up or repost the diverse voices of others doing the call to action. In doing so, your community will also see how you’re centering other voices, when it doesn’t always have to be your own.”
With budgets to keep and fundraising goals to meet, nonprofits may encounter a scarcity mindset and think that centering another nonprofit will take away from theirs. However, elevating other organizations emphasizes your collaborative spirit and commitment to supporting critical causes. This can also be the perfect time to highlight your local partnerships and how they make your work possible.
5. Be Responsive to Current Events
Natalie had been following the recent Supreme Court case related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and was prepared to make a statement on the court’s decision.
“We had our eyes out, knowing there was timely news coming out. We were prepared to design things leading up to that moment, and it could’ve gone either way. We had to be prepared to pivot.”
When the ruling came in favor of DACA, she shared this celebratory post through social media, inviting her audience into the moment with her while communicating her stance on the issue.
Being in tune with big news and current events, especially when related to your nonprofit’s work, and being prepared to respond to it in a timely manner demonstrates your nonprofit’s leadership and attention to current events.
Meet Danielle Perry, Influencer and Head of Marketing for Living the Dream Foundation
Danielle Perry has been working with brands ever since influencer marketing started to take root in 2014. She has over 310,000 followers on her personal Instagram account. In 2019, her boyfriend, Vic Fuentes, took over as CEO of Living the Dream Foundation, a nonprofit working to make dreams come true for children and young adults with life-threatening illnesses.
At the time, the nonprofit was struggling to maintain itself and continue to get its message out there. Vic recognized that Danielle’s social media expertise would be critical to helping the nonprofit complete a full rebrand to launch into the future.
“We fully wiped their social media accounts and started over to make the feed cohesive and more appropriate for the new relaunch that we wanted to convey.”
Living the Dream Foundation’s marketing is now identifiable. Whereas causes for specific illnesses often use a particular color, such as pink for breast cancer awareness, Living the Dream Foundation focuses its brand in grayscale to communicate that its mission encompasses all illnesses.
Vic and Danielle also cross-share the nonprofit’s work on their personal accounts, reaching an additional 2 million eyes. As a result, in less than a year, Living the Dream Foundation has gained over 20,000 new followers on social media.
Danielle’s tips for driving engagement, as well as the social media post examples she shares, speak toward both establishing your nonprofit as a recognizable brand and tapping into the authentic emotions that your audience is looking for in your content.
6. Partner With Public Figures
Living the Dream Foundation often introduces children and young adults struggling with an illness to their favorite musicians. This creates an organic opportunity to highlight partnerships with recognizable public figures. In the popular post below, the organization shares one of its “Dream Days” between a girl battling cystic fibrosis and one of her favorite artists, Billie Eilish.
“Having public figures rally behind your cause is a great way to gain cause awareness and receive engagement from the audience you already have.”
Even if your nonprofit doesn’t have relationships established with Hollywood celebrities, you can still partner with other social media influencers to increase awareness for your cause. Classy’s report Why America Gives found that these more relatable champions of your cause were the most influential to donors (26%), followed by professional athletes (10%), and then Hollywood celebrities (9%).
7. Communicate Emotion Through Photos
Living the Dream Foundation captures its audience by showing the genuine emotion of its recipients, shown in the social media example posts below as one of the nonprofit’s Dream Day guests meets her hero.
“Invest in photographers who can capture your mission the way you want it to be shown to the world. Good photography is so important to help get your message across.”
If you don’t have an in-house photographer, Danielle recommends searching hashtags on social media that include the city you’re in, plus “photographer” (e.g., #sandiegophotographer). Take a look at the portfolios of photographers that pop up in the search and consider whether you can see your mission in their work. If the mood of the photos seems like a good representation of your brand, reach out and tell them about your cause.
“A lot of people are open to working with nonprofits pro-bono or at a reduced rate because they want to give back and help out a cause they believe in.”
8. Allow for Lightheartedness
Nonprofits often communicate emotionally heavy information. Danielle believes it can be helpful for your audience to engage if you break that message up every so often with something more lighthearted.
“Sometimes people want a short, lighter caption they can connect to.”
There are many ways your nonprofit can do this while staying on brand. Some ideas include:
- Share a positive beneficiary story
- Check in with how your audience is doing
- Express gratitude for your supporters
- Have an influencer partner give your nonprofit a shoutout
- Share a meaningful quote
In this post from Perry’s personal page, she thanks her followers for supporting the previous day’s relaunch of Living the Dream Foundation. The photo is bright and cheerful and the caption is concise and positive.
9. Coordinate Your Big Announcements
When Danielle and Vic decided to completely rebrand and relaunch Living the Dream Foundation, they knew the day they announced the big launch would put a lot of eyes on their social media. They wanted to make sure their most recent post was a strong reflection of their mission, vision, and values. They shared a photo of Harold’s Dream Day with Corey Taylor, expressing how much this meeting meant for Harold as he battled cancer.
“Make sure if you have a big launch that your first post securely shows your mission and is a great example of what you want the world to know about your nonprofit.”
Whenever your nonprofit is going to make a big announcement, whether informing your audience that you’re starting a new social media account or sharing the date for your next fundraising event, consider:
- What photo will best capture the emotion of your announcement
- How your social media post will work in conjunction with press releases and other marketing tools
- Specific text you’ll use in your post to drive engagement with the announcement, whether questions for your audience, a beneficiary story, or a note of thanks
When you have new eyes engaging with your page, that is an opportunity to gain new supporters for your cause if your content is compelling.
10. Be Authentic and Compassionate
Especially during times of crisis, people want to engage with authentic content that is compassionate toward what they are experiencing in that moment. Living the Dream Foundation typically works with individuals who are immunocompromised, so the way they achieve their mission has been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. They used their social media to speak directly to everyone going through this public health crisis together.
“I saw a lot of brands and public figures who kept on posting as if quarantine wasn’t happening, and that immediately puts consumers in a weird headspace. They’re going through a traumatic life event and for these companies to act like nothing is happening, and not share how this time is affecting them, is a bad business call. People want to relate. People want to support people and companies that are compassionate and real.”
Your nonprofit should be responsive to both national and local events impacting your community. Let your audience know how things are affecting you and how your thoughts are with them during this time. In doing so, you offer both needed compassion to people facing challenges and communicate your authenticity to your audience. Your supporters will be more likely to engage with your content if they see you as an ally rather than a faceless brand.
Drive Social Media User Engagement Through Authentic, Creative, and Timely Posts
You may have noticed that both Natalie and Danielle chose Instagram for their social media post examples. They appreciate Instagram because it is a collective learning tool, can capture conversations in real-time, emphasizes emotional connection through imagery, and taps into an important and growing youth demographic. However, nonprofits can adapt the main takeaways from these social media post examples for a variety of social media platforms.
Through authentic and creative social media posts that are responsive to current events, nonprofits can not only grow an audience, but also foster critical engagement among their supporters. This community-building can help both your nonprofit and several cross-cutting social issues.Return to Insights & Events