Social Media Marketing

Social Media for Nonprofits: How to Make an Impact with Little Budget

9 September, 2020
11 min read
Elise Dopson

Are you struggling to make your cause known and garner more support for your nonprofit through social media?

A lack of funding, time or resources could contribute to dwindling success—not to mention the poor organic reach that many social media platforms are dishing out to Pages and profiles of all sizes.

For the majority of social media platforms, it’s pay-to-play. It’s tricky to reach the audience you’re building if you’re not handing over the little cash you’ve got to advertise.

But how can you prevent feeling disheartened if your nonprofit’s social media presence isn’t doing as well as you’d hoped? And is it really possible to receive donations, garner support and recruit volunteers through social media organically?

The answer is simple: Yes.

In this guide, I’m sharing exactly how you can make a big impact with little budget as a nonprofit on social media. From using interactive content to measuring the results you’re getting, I’ve got you covered!

Why should nonprofits focus on social media?

Firstly, let’s have a quick chat about why you’re marketing your organisation anyway.

According to data by HubSpot, the main priorities of social media marketers at nonprofits are to fundraise, generate brand awareness, recruit volunteers or share news:

Nonprofit social media marketer priorities

Social media is perfect for either of those goals.

Why? Because for each goal to be met, you’ll need another person to get involved. Over 3.6 billion people worldwide were estimated to be using social media in 2020, meaning there’s no shortage of opportunities to find people who can support your cause through platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

To put it simply: Using social media correctly gives you the chance to promote your nonprofit and find people to help with your mission.

And, in an industry that doesn’t always have much to offer in return for someone’s donation or offer to volunteer, the short-form content you’re sharing on social media means your audience don’t have to do too much to get involved.

If your audience are giving a donation and don’t get anything back physically, it’s wise to make it as easy as possible for them to get involved.

We all like ease and convenience, right?

What you’ll need to start promoting your non-profit organisation on social media

Before we dive into the details, let’s make sure we’ve got the basics covered with a social media plan.

Just like any new marketing campaign, you’ll need to know what you’re working towards in order to promote your cause effectively. That includes:

  • Setting clear goals on what you want to achieve: Are you more focused on receiving donations, raising awareness, or recruiting volunteers?
  • The audience you’re targeting: As well as having a clear idea of the marketing personas that you're targeting, you need to know what type of content they enjoy, and which platforms your audience are using regularly.
  • Which social platforms you’ll be using: Are you majorly limited by resources? It might be wise to focus on the platform most of your target audience is using, then branch out once you’re seeing results.
  • A strategy to put that into place: Do you know how much time you have to invest? Create a weekly (or monthly) schedule that allows you to post consistently without burning yourself out.

Save your answers to these in a document you can refer back to. That way, it’ll be easy to reference when you’re researching new ideas to make an impact—or to prove return on investment when your boss questions why you’re focusing on social media.

(It’s more common than you think.)

Seven ways nonprofits can make an impact on social media with little budget

Almost half (44%) of nonprofits have just one person managing their social media presence.

If that’s you, and you’re looking to find a way to supercharge the results you’re getting through organic posting, use these tips to make a big impact with the little time and budget you’re working with:

1. Post interactive content to encourage engagement

Interactive content is a type of content that requires your audience to do something other than  passively watching or reading.

If you’re able to sprinkle this type of content throughout the social media calendar for your nonprofit, there’s no reason why you couldn’t boost engagement rates—and meet your goals sooner.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: Businesses that use interactive content consistently average a click-through rate (CTR) of 50%, and a form submission rate of over 80%.

Interactive social media content could give you the opportunity to see a flood of volunteer registration form submissions or clicks to your donation page.

The best part?

Putting this type of content on your to-do list doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend hours creating a unique post. You could:

  • Run Twitter polls
  • Host a Q&A session through Instagram Stories
  • Post a Facebook survey
  • Ask your audience to share their story through a normal status update

UK-based charity Macmillan Cancer Support use this concept in their Twitter feed. Asking followers to respond to their post by commenting with their favourite hot drink and biscuit combination does a fantastic job at getting their existing audience engaged:

macmillan cancer twitter post

No matter which type of interactive content you’re using to promote your nonprofit through social media, you’ll gain valuable insights into your current follower base.

That data is invaluable for creating better-targeted content in the future.

2. Include hashtags to increase your reach

Remember how earlier, I mentioned how the majority of social media platforms are becoming pay-to-play?

I’ve got a little workaround: Using hashtags in your content.

Branding your nonprofit’s social media content with a hashtag can increase your organic reach because it allows the content to be found in native search.

All of the big platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn—have their own search features, and with millions of users visiting the site each day, why wouldn’t you want to position your charity in front of them?

If you’re able to:

  • Create your own hashtag and build a strong following by getting involved
  • OR jump onto a popular hashtag and make it your own’ll dominate hashtag the search feeds whenever your target audience clicks on it—especially if you’re using hashtags on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Let’s use an example. If I search for the hashtag #DoGood on Twitter, here’s what I see:

Notice how this post isn’t published from the charity’s page directly? Instead, it’s posted by a supporter—making hashtags a fantastic way to encourage your loyal community to help spread the word about your cause by creating user-generated content.

But, on the brand-side, you’ll need to create a strong hashtag before your audience begin using it.

The British Red Cross have a fantastic example of how to do this across multiple platforms. Their Twitter bio uses the #PowerofKindness hashtag:

British Red Cross Twitter

...along with their Instagram captions:

British Red Cross #PowerofKindness Instagram

Now, when anyone is involved with the charity, they’re more likely to add the branded hashtag to their own post—building the strength of your hashtag, the chances of being found in native social search, and positioning yourself in front of their audience.

And we all know the power of being endorsed by someone’s family and friends.

Charity Hashtags

Fancy getting started? Here’s a list of nonprofit hashtags you can sprinkle throughout your content:

  • #Charity
  • #DoGood
  • #Fundraising
  • #Activism
  • #Donate
  • #Nonprofit
  • #Philanthropy
  • #CharityWork
  • #SocialCause
  • #Change

The search results for each of these hashtags is charity-based, so you might have competition to stand out. But don’t let that put you off.

Testing a handful of non-branded hashtags can help you to discover which terms are resonating with your audience (and being searched-for).

You’ll also get a grip of how they work on each platform, which will put you in good stead for when you come to create a branded hashtag campaign.

3. Use visuals to drive website traffic

Did you know that people are three times more likely to engage with Tweets that contain photos and videos?

Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement, too:


Not only do large, high-quality photos look impressive, but the larger size demands more attention in a crowded News Feed.

That’s a major bonus for nonprofits—especially if you’re looking to raise brand awareness and drive more traffic to the content hosted on your website.

So, use this concept when crafting the content you’re going to post. You could accompany external URLs with:

  • Infographics
  • GIFs
  • Photos from a recent event

The Audubon Society use high-quality images when sharing links to their content on Twitter:

I’ll bet that striking image is much less likely to slip through the constant feed of content in your own feed, right?

(Plus, a cute bird photo never hurt anybody!)

4. Check in daily and respond to questions

You’re likely to see an increase in the number of private messages you’re receiving after you’re put these tips into practice. People might be getting in touch to ask how they can get involved, but you might not realise the timing of your response is just as important as what you respond with.

On Facebook, 85% of consumers expect their questions to be answered within  six hours, while 64% of Twitter users expect an answer within the hour.

That means you’ll need to act fast (and check your notifications daily) to impress these people before they lose interest—and discourage others from doing the same.

Let’s take the Facebook Page for American charity, Food For The Poor, for example. You’ll see their average response rate as soon as you click “Message”:

Food For The Poor response rate

I’m instantly told I should expect a reply within a day, which is awesome.

However, should this show “typically replies within a few weeks”, it’s discouraging. I’m much less likely to hit send because I could be waiting a long time for a reply.

“What’s the point in messaging them to send a donation if they’re not going to reply?” is a question you never want your audience to say.

The only way to improve your typical response rate on Facebook is to respond to private messages in a timely manner.

Check in daily and respond to messages as soon as you can.

This rule is especially important if you're a social media marketing agency who is doing community management on behalf of your nonprofit clients, since you want to uphold their reputation in order to retain them as your client.

Granted, it might add more to your social media to-do list, but you don’t want potential donors to fall at the first hurdle. There’s not much point in promoting your charity through social media with the aim to garner more monetary support if you’re unable to carry them through a conversation, right?


5. Make it easy for followers to donate

Let’s chat a little bit more about that donation process.

When you’re looking for people to make a donation after finding you through social media, it’s likely they’ll need to click-through to your website.

That’s where the “Donation” call-to-action comes in.

On Facebook, nonprofits can select their Page’s call-to-action as “Donate”. Then, when someone visits your profile with the intention to give a donation, there’s a clear way for them to do so (without rummaging around the content you’ve recently posted for a link).

Here’s an example on Dreamscape Foundation’s Facebook Page:

Donate button on Dreamscape Foundation's Facebook Page

To do this for your charity’s Facebook Page, simply:

  1. Visit your Page and click “Add a Button”. (This is found just beneath your cover photo, as shown in the image above.)
  2. Select the ‘Donate’ option.
  3. Fill-in the details you’ll need to send a visitor to your donation page.
  4. Test the button to make sure it’s working.

You can apply this same concept to other social media profiles, too.

Although platforms like Twitter and Instagram don’t have a specific call-to-action button, there’s no reason why you couldn’t link to the donation page from your bio.

Did you know that the overall CTR lift after adding a call-to-action to a Facebook ad is 2.85x?

Giving your audience a clear, easy and simple way to get involved with your cause (that’s also free to implement!) could be the nudge they need to make a donation—and help you meet the goals you’ve set for your nonprofit’s social media campaign.

You can also keep an eye on the different features social media networks are developing for nonprofits and charity organisations. For example, in 2018, YouTube launched new fundraising tools for nonprofits which allowed creators raise brand awareness and directly receive donations with the help of video marketing!

6. Schedule social media content in advance

Since you’re struggling for time, you could benefit from using a social content scheduling tool to post content automatically, in advance.

This could help you batch your tasks, and spend a few hours each week crafting content—rather than two hours per day, or leaving it to the last minute.

I asked Kaleigh Moore, previously a social media and PR manager for a nonprofit, to explain how social media scheduling helped her to spread the word about the charity she worked for.

She explained how this activity can tie-into the foundations of a strong strategy:

"Generally, scheduling via a planning tool not only saves tons of time on a day-to-day basis, but it also helps you develop a content calendar so your efforts are more organised and deliberate. It keeps you from constantly being in defence mode thinking, "What should we post today?".

Content calendars and planned content serve as a backbone for consistent sharing—and from there, you can supplement with engagement and interaction that adds that "human element" so often missing from social media presences.”

Kaleigh also mentioned how this approach to social media helped her to post content consistently—something that 42% of nonprofit content marketers struggle with:

“When I was a social media manager for a hunger relief non-profit, scheduling content easily saved me 2-3 hours of work each week. It also helped me post consistently and with good variety, making sure that we always had fresh, interesting content to share.”

If you want to get in on the scheduling action for your nonprofit—and save more time as a result, you can grab 25% off Sendible's social media scheduling tool. 

(It’s a no-brainer!)

7. Measure the effectiveness of your strategy

Over half of marketers in nonprofits struggle to measure the effectiveness of the content they’re creating. That leads to one huge problem: uncertainty on whether you’re on-track to meet the goals you set earlier.

How can you make a huge impact without knowing whether the content you’re producing is working?

You can’t.

That’s why all social media marketers should make it a priority to analyse whether the tactics we’ve outlined here are working. Different charities have different audiences—what works for one nonprofit might not work for another.

You can do this by using data from native platforms, such as:

...and combine these native insights with those from your Sendible report, which provides additional information on how your scheduled content is performing.

However, social media ROI is difficult to track—especially if you’re unable to accurately map the number of donations you’ve received or volunteers you’ve recruited over a few months.

You’re able to get around this problem by using UTM links in your content. These small bits of code are added onto the end of any standard URL (like the blog post you tweeted, or the link to Donate from your Facebook call-to-action), and allow you to track exactly where your on-site actions are coming from.

Bookmark this handy Campaign URL Builder tool and reference it whenever you’re creating a new link.

Then, you’ve got the chance to dive deeper with your Google Analytics report, and discover the common behaviour flow of people clicking each type of link.


Social media strategy for nonprofits: three quick posting tips

Now that you know about the different ways nonprofits can make an impact on social media, here are three bonus tips for creating relevant, engaging and shareable content for your audience.

  1. Share stories

    Brand storytelling has long been established as an effective social media marketing technique. So, to effectively tell stories with the content you promote on social, you have to get personal - use names, images and quotes from real people to emphasise the importance of your cause,  just like Red Cross Australia did after the devastating 2020 Australian bush fires:  

    Red Cross Australia Twitter
  2. Showcase your charities real world impact

    As a nonprofit, your organisation does life-changing work every day - so don't be afraid to show the results! One way to demonstrate the impact of your charities work could be to create a series of before and after posts which chart the positive outcomes that your charity has helped to bring about, just like Cancer Research have done on Facebook - when combined with storytelling, it's simple but really effective:

    cancer research facebook post
  3. Don't be afraid to embrace humour

    Just because your charitable cause is serious, doesn't mean that all of the content you publish has to be! The fact is, humour is a proven marketing tool - 53% of consumers are more likely to remember an ad if it's funny. So, with your cause marketing, why not try creating relatable content that's also relevant and always keeps your audience in mind, like children's charity NSPCC does:

    nspcc instagram post

Final thoughts on social media for nonprofits

Has this article done its job and persuaded you to make a few small tweaks to your nonprofit’s social media strategy?

Great! Now you’re on the road to more awareness of your charity, volunteer opportunities and donations.

I can’t wait to start engaging with your content when it creeps up in my personal feeds!

Free template for planning social media campaigns