How Nonprofits Can Optimize Their Social Media Efforts

Randy McCabe October 15, 2012 Nonprofits

Guest Blogger, Randy Vaughn, Marketing Twins:  Randy Vaughn is currently Dallas-Fort Worth’s only Certified Duct Tape Marketing Consultant.  Randy works alongside his identical twin brother, Donny, in their Fort Worth marketing agency (where they are known as “The Marketing Twins”).  The most unique thing about Randy is that he and his family spent 10 years as a missionary in French-speaking West Africa. 

Nonprofits are not unlike small businesses in trying to optimize their presence on social media, especially on giants like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.  The former, currently with over 1 billion users worldwide, remains a mysterious laboratory where organizations make repeated marketing mistakes in efforts to tap into the potential viral power these social networks possess.  Notably, many of the communication blunders made on social media are the same ones made offline, too.


This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’ve got to keep this one simple, too.  Identify your ideal audience with whom you want to join in expanding your cause.  Determine their behavioral patterns for charitable giving and volunteerism.  Segment your audience (i.e., young audience with no kids, empty nesters, male-female, etc.) and know what they love, what fuels their passion and how they communicate.


Drive your nonprofit message to these specific profiles with resonating messages that match their passions.  Connect via the channels where they communicate.  No one may see that new photo gallery you put up on your website if you don’t tell them on Twitter about it, or on Facebook or through email marketing.   Consider the age-old question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Apply that and ask, “if I launch a small fundraising campaign targeting millennials but only put it on my website, will it have any impact whatsoever?”  You may find that while it is necessary to have it on your nonprofit website, it may be equally (or more) important to build the campaign around Twitter or your Facebook page, depending on the audience you are wanting to reach.


You are passionately “competing” with other nonprofits for donor dollars.  While maybe not as cut-throat as in the business world, if your nonprofit provides an indistinguishable service in a cause that similarly can be performed through any number of other nonprofits (i.e., how many dozens of nonprofits are building water wells in Africa – they are everywhere), a donor has no motivation or urgency to donate to you as opposed to the other guys.  Showcase the unique way you do this, highlight the unmatched zeal or the extraordinary people behind the organization, and prove to each donor that their dollar could not be better spent anywhere else.


With each campaign, with each piece of marketing content, and with every emotional touch point, tell the audience what you want them to do.  Donations are often made with emotion (particularly small ones), so tell me where to text my donation, where to click to donate or how to sign up to volunteer.  If you post a video on Facebook, use overlaying annotations or on-screen text to drive me to the action step.  Don’t tell me to vaguely “visit our website for more information” because I will likely “do it later” (aka, “never”) or simply surf around yet never making a commitment. With the right stories and clear call-to-action, your message will compel me to take action.

Once you get the communication strategy in place, consider posting consistent content that showcases stories of the 3 most important groups your audience needs to hear about:

  1. STORIES ABOUT BENEFICIARIES – obviously your most common content will be consistent success stories and compelling case studies that promote your nonprofits’ capabilities of changing the world or transforming the lives of people in your community.  Clearly communicate the pain at the time they met you, the solution you provided to alleviate their challenges, and the hopeful enthusiasm with which they see their lives now.  This is the magic formula for the perfectly riveting testimonial about which potential donors need to hear.
  2. STORIES ABOUT DONORS – speaking of the givers, your audience needs to hear about the impact your nonprofit has made in the lives of its regular contributors.  When a potential donor examines your nonprofit, not only may they be moved by the emotional stories of the beneficiaries, but the resounding reviews from other donors testifies to your nonprofit’s credibility and trustworthiness.  Capture testimonials in written, audio and visual format to serve as endorsements that will solidify a new philanthropist’s commitment to give.
  3. STORIES ABOUT VOLUNTEERS – possibly not the heaviest hitters in your database (though there are some exceptions), volunteers champion a “grassroots” effort in terms of word-of-mouth marketing, especially in these days of social media.  Representing the unbridled enthusiasm of these committed servants serves to strengthen your organization’s case when talking with donors about their participation.  Generous givers love to see an enthusiastic base already in place.

Nonprofits offer massive social networks the perfect opportunity for people to digest stories that enrich, encourage and inspire.  Whereas businesses can mistakenly push unwelcomed promotional interruption into our online news streams, nonprofits tug at our hearts and consequently redirect our focus and action to the more important things.  Your social media communication plan must be clear, targeted and all about the stories.  When you contribute the necessary altruism to our daily conversations and consciousness, your nonprofit will enjoy a healthy online presence needed to expand and extend your organization’s impact.