January 15, 2016

Social Media

Using social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) to help accomplish a nonprofit's goals.

Social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn allow people to quickly share information and ideas across electronic networks. Nonprofits often use social media services to facilitate targeted interactions with their stakeholders—both spreading the organization's message and listening to stakeholders' feedback—so as better to advance their goals. Social media is typically part of a nonprofit's wider communications strategy.

How it's used

Social media programs can provide nonprofits with an opportunity to more frequently, rapidly, and authentically engage with targeted audiences. At the same time, effective and successful social media programs work to advance the nonprofit's overall mission and goals. Social media programs are used to:
  • Listen to Customers, both donors and beneficiaries, and learn what they care about.
  • Generate awareness about the nonprofit, the issues it seeks to address, and its programs or solutions. In this way, social media can raise a nonprofit's profile and crystallize brand identity.
  • Attract new supporters, including donors, beneficiaries, staff members, and the wider community.
  • Develop a community, galvanize supporters, build a movement, and engage and collaborate with peer organizations.
  • Disseminate and gather information about programs, services, or issues, including sharing thought-leadership and field-building content, or soliciting and collecting candid feedback.
  • Engage authentically with audiences, including sharing new ideas, responding to feedback and comments, and quickly joining conversations about current events.


Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are free to use, but implementing effective social media strategies is not without cost. Nonprofits should carefully design their social media strategies to further their organization's goals, and should integrate social media efforts with communications efforts at large. While each organization's use of social media may differ, nonprofits can follow these seven steps to get started:

  1. Set goals: Set goals for your organization's use of social media. Ensure that social media goals work to advance the organization's larger goals.
  2. Establish an internal social media policy: Staff members should have a clear understanding of what the organization's expectations are for employees' social media interactions, whether on behalf of the organization or on personal accounts. Employees can serve as valuable thought leaders and brand advocates for their organization.
  3. Determine and understand audience: With these goals in mind, identify who you are trying to reach (e.g., donors, beneficiaries, peers) and understand their current use of social media.
  4. Identify preliminary strategies: Given your goals and audience, select the most effective social media platforms to use. Consider which types of content will most engage your audience, and whether or not you already have this content. Looking to peers may provide insight into effective strategies.
  5. Set metrics of success: Social media programs are only effective if they help nonprofits further their overall goals. Therefore, it's important to set both short-term aims (e.g., number of followers) and long-term aims (e.g., number of donors retained) to track effectiveness of social media programs.
  6. Deploy resources and develop processes: Identify and assign the staff members needed to oversee and implement social media programs. Additionally, determine decision-making roles for social media management.
  7. Implement and improve: As you implement social media programs and strategies, test different types of posts or engagement strategies and review comments, using real-time analytics (e.g., Facebook Analytics) to understand needs and trends. Continue to track metrics of success. Using this information, learn and adapt to improve.

Related topics

Additional resources

Council of Nonprofits: Convio Social Media Guide
This 37-page paper serves as a primer on the use of social media for nonprofits.

How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media
Beth Kanter is an expert in the use of social media for the nonprofit sector. Her blog has practical, detailed resources on social media strategies for nonprofits.

Getting Social Media Right: A Short Guide for Nonprofit Organizations
This article introduces the concept of the Seven C's—cause, communication, community, collaboration, costs, capital, and competition—that nonprofits should consider when implementing social media programs.

Tweeting For a better World
Based on findings from research conducted by the Rita Allen Foundation and Bridgespan, this article outlines effective social media strategies that nonprofits use to advance their missions.

Examples and case studies

Creating Social Change with Social Media
This article explains how the 92nd Street Y used Twitter to galvanize a campaign to support charities.

Reach is Not the Same as Influence: The Rockefeller Foundation Case
The Rockefeller Foundation's 3-year 100 Resilient Cities campaign sought to influence key decision makers and industry influencers. It established employees as thought leaders and attempted to measure the influence of the campaign on target audiences.

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