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Communications for non-profits and similar organizations (like independent schools or higher ed, for example) typically fall into two baskets: fundraising appeals or event promotion. A huge amount of time is spent figuring out the best ways to ask for money in order to implement mission-driven programs. The remaining time is allocated to promoting those programs or events, almost always with the soft intention of demonstrating how those dollars were spent wisely. Welcome to the self-perpetuating cycle of non-profit communications. Groups that get caught up in this whirlwind usually have little to no resources for adequate PR, and even fewer staff to delegate the task of spreading the word to. This is where social media comes into play.

What if we told you there were several ways non-profits and educational institutions could use social media efficiently without taking too much time away from fundraising and program promotion? Well, since there are myriad blogs and listicles out there boasting tips for using social media you’ll probably say to yourself, “Of course there are!” BUT, what if we told you we’ve outlined a few ways to leverage the power of social media in a strategic way that augments your pre-existing efforts to satisfy those same needs to fund-raise and promote your work and organization? Has your interested piqued? We’ll preface this list by saying that social media alone does not yield donations, but rather helps to lead to them. Keep reading!

  1. Storytelling

At the heart of every successful fundraising appeal is an emotionally compelling or eye-opening story. Great fundraisers are great storytellers and can get a story off the ground in an elevator ride or in a 1-2 page letter. Social media was built for a narrative. Twitter is the short story of the internet, while Facebook allows for taller tales. Networks like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube are excellent platforms for visual narratives. Whichever you choose, the purpose is to create opportunities for engagement. Use these channels to present your organization’s values, ethics, and culture. People love to go behind the scenes and connect with people, not just static messages. Celebrity or political supporters can be really effective on social media. If you have the opportunity, capitalize on their name recognition. This kind of social proof can make potential supporters stand up and take notice. Other stories can be about your founders and history. But the most important story is one of impact. Videos and photos of those who’ve benefited from your work will always be compelling. By telling any of these stories, you’re letting people in and encouraging transparency. This helps to establish trust as well as credibility with your audience, which important if you want to grow your donor base.

2. Establish Community

If you take a look at a social media page with a large following, what you’ll see between the posts and shared content is a diverse group of people with common interests brought together by that organization or company. This is the beautiful thing about social media: its power to unite. Over the years, it’s been proven that social media is one of the most effective ways to establish community. Whether your organization advocates for a cause like ending domestic violence or promotes public art in impoverished locales, you have the ability to gather the masses for productive conversations that may in fact lead to solutions for problems you’ve been trying to solve. Your page can serve as a safe space for people in your network to share experiences and advice. Social media also affords the opportunity for many organizations to assert their thought leadership by answering questions posited by those who choose to connect with you. Rather than sharing content for the sake of likes or follows, use these networks for good by serving as a resource or virtual extension of your organization.

3. Strategic Listening & Testing

Capitalize on the tell-all nature of social media by asking your followers for their opinions. We guarantee they’ll hand them over in heaps. Use pURLs to send people to customized landing pages where their responses can be appended back into your marketing database. This way you can easily take advantage of what you’ve learned. You could even throw in a perk for participating. Read comments thoroughly and track conversations occurring on your page. When you see patterns, address those issues in e-newsletters, on that network, or other channels where you are active. Let your audience know you’re actually listening by addressing their thoughts or concerns. The best part about this is that you’re encouraging a dialog. Crowdsourcing for information can be really effective and even a little fun, say if you’re voting on a conference or workshop theme or debating between two designs for a community mural. We often recommend social as a place to test out messaging. It’s often free and unrestricted in terms of how much you can post, so make valuable use of your time working on those channels to play around with headlines or narratives before spending money on printing them up. Give your followers a reason to be there!

4. Create Pathways to Giving

While we’ve already noted that social media is not the best possible way to solicit existing or potential donors for contributions, it is a great outlet to promote an appeal campaign you’re currently running. Nothing grabs attention like a bold call to action, and since most networks allow photos and videos what better place to implement one than there? Whether you’re implementing a grand-scale letter campaign or trying out crowdfunding for the first time, social media is going to be one of the most useful tools you can find to build awareness of your efforts and get people excited. By incorporating your network into the hullabaloo, especially toward your campaign’s end, it allows them to share in your success and celebrate along with you and hopefully leads to a donation.

The Wrap Up

We’re firm believers in an integrated approach to organizational communications, but if you’ve got to put all (or most) of your eggs in one basket this is great advice to take. Because social media is often low to no cost, have fun and play around until you get it right. Most networks provide valuable insights into engagement and demographics, so you’ll be able to be data driven in your efforts which is key for gauging your success and shaping future marketing initiatives. Let us know if you try out any of these techniques!

You Might Also Enjoy:
There’s Always Room for a Story
Making Time: Proactive vs. Reactive Communications
5 New Ways to Steward Donors This Summer

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