For Nonprofits

Social media for charities: from followers to volunteers & donors

How can charities build their voice on social media? I explore some strategies that can get your charity’s brand known among your ideal volunteers and donors.

For most charities, the fact that social media can be used to promote products and services among specific target audiences is no longer a secret. In this post, I’ll explore if attractive content, advertisements, and an extensive social media strategy are within the realm of possibilities of most nonprofit organisations. Then, I will explore which strategies charities should focus on to reach and convert their target audience into engaged volunteers or donors.

According to the  Global NGO Tech Report, only 32% of all charities worldwide has a formal social media strategy. This is understandable, seeing as the budget and time to attract more volunteers or donors via social media is not always available. Despite this fact, in addition to targeted advertising, we should remember that social media has two additional functions to offer:

  • the spread of ‘brand’ awareness
  • direct communication toward a targeted network of motivated volunteers and donors

Luckily, over the past years we have seen more and more successful social media campaigns by nonprofit organisations. A great example is the September Campaign 2015 by Charity:Water, a nonprofit organisation bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. For its campaign, Charity:Water used videos and stories to recruit social media donors. By sharing inspirational stories of real people, in 2015, they raised a total of 1.8 million dollars. Regardless of the budget available for a social media strategy or other communication material, the quality and added value of a message always come first.

Tell an inspiring story

Charities have a remarkable advantage when it comes to communicating with their target audience via social media. This is because they are in the business of human connection, meaning that inspiring stories are often only an arm’s length away. This, in contrast to many for-profit companies, where entire marketing teams are tasked with finding intriguing storylines and characters to attach to the company’s products or services.

Photo via Music Moves.

Why are stories so important? According to Kimberley Whitler’s ‘3 Reasons Why Storytelling Should Be A Priority For Marketers‘, “storytelling is a fundamental human experience that unites people and drives stronger, deeper connections.”

Don’t hesitate to use photos, blogposts, and Instagram Stories as tools to bond with your online audience. During my time working as a Growth Marketer at Deedmob, a world-wide volunteering platform, I found that using social media to share photos of volunteers in action – in combination with a short interview or story on Instagram or Facebook – led to more engagement than simply sharing a link to a webpage with a short, impersonal description.

Focus on generating action, not on raising more awareness

Many organisations see social media as the perfect medium to ‘raise awareness’ around a specific cause (climate change, depression etc.). This isn’t such a strange thought if we consider the political and polarised nature of many Facebook and Twitter users.

But what leads to valuable engagement with your cause? According to Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand, we do not generate real-life action by simply “creating more awareness“. To alter the convictions and behaviour patterns of followers, charities should come up with strategic, targeted communication. Through this practice, organisations can avoid being seen merely as ‘one among many’.

Who is your communication targeted toward?

Before posting anything on social media, always make sure to define which audience members your posts are targeted toward. Do you have a local charity in town that offers language lessons to refugees? In this case, your ideal volunteer should speak multiple languages. Make it a habit to think of the type of volunteer that you will need for the task and define a buyer (or user) persona. A buyer persona “is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers” (Hubspot). In case of a charity, the word ‘customer’ can be replaced by the word ‘volunteer’ or ‘donor’.

The user persona of a student is likely to differ from that of a busy mother or father of 3. By determining ahead of time which volunteer or donor you want to reach, you can increase the likelihood of applications or donations via social media. How busy are they? What is the problem they’re looking to solve by volunteering or donating? By answering these types of questions, you’ll be in a much better position to unlock the full potential of social media to convert your target audience.

Photo via BOOST Transvaal.

Building user persona’s

Are you ready to build your own user persona’s? Hubspot has created an awesome tool to help you easily define who your ideal volunteer or donor is:  Make My Persona.

I recommend splitting the sections up into:

  • Online channels. Does your ideal volunteer or donor use Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Which newspapers or websites do they visit? Which other charities do they follow? This type of information can give you great ideas about the kinds of posts that your followers are likely to engage with.
  • Challenges & wishes. Do your followers experience a specific problem related to your cause? If your charity combats plastic pollution, you may want to ask yourself in which ways plastic pollution impacts the life of your ideal volunteer or donor. By imagining how your target audience thinks, you can get a better idea of which challenges and wishes your social media content should address.
  • Behaviour. How engaged is your target audience with your larger cause? Do you catch their attention daily, weekly, or yearly? Is your user persona already a donor or volunteer? Or will they be more difficult to convince? By understanding the behaviour of your ideal volunteer or donor, you can determine whether your social media communication should inform or inspire.

Top tip: By speaking to your existing volunteer or donor base and asking them the right questions, you can continuously improve your user persona’s.

A clear message should include a plan of action

Make it very clear how someone can take action through your organisation. Rather than making your communication about a problem or threat, focus on the ways in which their contribution is going to generate positive change.

As a charity combatting plastic pollution, focus on promoting your next plastic cleanup event, rather than talking only about the destructive effects of plastic waste on the ocean.

The tone used in your messaging is very important. In fact, a study by positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson showed that participants who experienced positive emotions, opened themselves up more to different possible courses of action and behaviour changes. Negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger cause us to be less likely to question our existing behaviour or thought patterns, let alone explore alternative options.

Converting your target audience into new volunteers or donors

Do you want to appeal to someone who has never volunteered or donated before? Convince them using positive, hopeful, and inspiring messages that include clear calls to action (Stanford Social Innovation Journal).

In practice, this means that, at the end of a social media post you should include a link (call to action) to a specific vacancy or donation page. By making it easy for people to find where to go if they’re interested in getting involved, your audience will have an easier time imagining themselves being of service.

A good example of this is Music Moves, a successful project by the Amsterdam-based charity Stichting 10,000 HOURS. Yearly, they organise tens of music events to attract and connect hundreds of people from different backgrounds, from students to elderly living in care centres. For the first part of their communication plan, the Music Moves programme used Facebook and Instagram to call upon groups of college students to sign up for their social coach training programme. Once they had accumulated enough applications, their communication plan shifted to focus on increasing the amount of applications for the music events, organised by social coaches.

Top tip: Did you know that Facebook allows you to start your own fundraiser on their platform? Check it out here!

Think of this before you start

Before you start using social media as a charity, it is essential to get a grasp of the possibilities it offers within your budget. Additionally, you should understand how your ‘brand’ can successfully influence your target audience through clear, action-based communication. Lastly, remember to list all of the things your ideal volunteer or donor is trying to accomplish using social media.

Here’s a short checklist:

☐ Social media offers more functionalities than just advertisements

☐ A successful social media strategy starts with an inspiring story

☐ Focus on calls to actions first, then on creating more awareness

☐ Define your ideal volunteer

☐ Keep it positive!


By louisedesadeleer

I’m a digital marketer with a passion for tech for good, nonprofits, and psychology. I do data-driven marketing experimentation by following users through their journey - from awareness to retention - and ensuring a smooth ride! 🚲

What drives us to do good? Curious about all things nonprofit, motivation, altruism & ethics. Previously @deedmob — the largest volunteering platform in the Netherlands.

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