Nonprofits and Social Media: Which Sites Work Best for NPOs (and Why the Answer Isn’t All of Them)

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Social media is a must for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). I say it every single month on this blog – NPOs have to get in the social media game if they want to stay relevant and grow their donor base with the up and coming (of age) donors. What I haven’t addressed is why NPOs shouldn’t use ALL social media networks unless they have a very large staff to manage them. So today we take a look at which social media networks are best for NPOs and why the answer isn’t all of them.

The needs and target audience of a NPO will determine which social media network is best for them. The answer will be different for everyone. Sometimes a presence on just one site will work, while others may need to reach out via multiple networks. The important things to consider when making these decisions are 1) Do you have a staff person that has enough time to manage multiple sites? 2) Which social network site offers you the services/features you need most and 3) Where is your target audience flocking?

First things first, do you have a staff person who can manage multiple sites? The quick answer is typically no, but managing multiple sites doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Most social networking sites offer ways to link to each other so that when you update a status on one, it automatically posts to another. For more information about how even small NPOs can manage a social media presence, read my blog “Nonprofits and Social Media: How Even the Smallest Shop Can Join the Frenzy.” While I truly believe than any NPO can handle two or three social media outlets, I also believe there is such thing as too many. Trying to be everywhere will dilute the time and energy you spend everywhere. So make sure you look at the time available for site management and choose wisely.

Once you’ve decided how much time you have to manage your social networking, how do you decide which sites fit your needs the best? The first place to start is with you and your organization. Determine what it is you really want to do online and then find all the sites that meet those criteria. Is starting a blog on your growth plan for the year? Do you want to post short, to-the-point updates throughout the day? Will you use social media to host chats or conferences for your donors or followers? Figure out what you need and want and go from there.

With your needs determined, the next step is hands on experience. Get on the sites and see how easy they are to use and if their features are what you thought they were. Many sites offer similar features and it may be a tough choice. Google+ is quickly gaining in popularity and challenging Facebook to reinvent itself in some ways. Fox News did a side by side comparison in January with “Facebook vs. Google+: What’s the Best Social Network?” that’s worth the read for NPOs that aren’t sure which way to go. Can’t decide whether depth or brevity is your best bet? Try reading Mack Collier’s post “Blogs or Twitter: Which Tool is Better for Building Awareness?” And then there’s the newest site to join the game, Pinterest, a site that is building a user base quickly. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great article, “Nonprofits Pin Their Social-Media Efforts on New Network,” discussing how the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has had success with the new network.

With all of that homework and choices to make, the third thing to consider is the most important – know where your audience is and go there. If your target audience is into brief updates on Twitter then writing even the best blog won’t help you. There’s a good chance that some of your high profile donor prospects are using LinkedIn and don’t have the slightest idea what Pinterest. Know your audience.

Having a presence on social media sites is a definite must for NPOs. Spreading yourself too thin with a presence on sites that don’t meet your needs is not. Do your homework and figure out what works best for you and then go for it!

Amy Stephan
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Amy Stephan. Amy is a consultant and non-profit professional with more than 10 years of field experience working in fundraising and development. She provides nonprofits with help in fundraising and major gifts, capital campaigns, board and volunteer development and staff leadership, working with organizations of all sizes to plan, implement and assess social media strategies. While holding leadership positions with local branches of organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Diabetes Association, Amy developed a passion for all things related to fundraising and non-profits. In addition to her non-profit work, she is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked as a full-time writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines. +Amy Stephan
Amy Stephan


  1. says

    I agree that NPOs should have one or two key social channels, even if a one- or two-person shop needs to commit one of them primarily to passionate volunteers. Facebook is an ideal candidate for this sort of crowdsourcing, particularly where conversations with followers may occur largely outside of the standard work week. I also suggest being realistic about how long it can take to generate an attention-worthy tweet or Facebook conversation-starter. The first few are easy, but then the on-hand material dwindles. In my experience, it can take as long as 20 or even 30 minutes during these dry spells to dream up and compose a post that is compellingly written, truly offers value to followers, and is geared to generate worthwhile conversation. I always recommend that groups whose eyes may be larger than their stomachs in terms of social media management resources plot out two weeks’ worth of tweets/Facebook posts/etc. before pulling the trigger on a broad spectrum of channels–and keep using that calendar going forward. @chrishandzlik

  2. says

    Roshan, you are absolutely correct! YouTube is an excellent network for NPOs to use and market their services. Branding is such a key aspect that NPOs struggle with in their marketing. The key is repeating your brand everywhere and in our short attention span world, video is a great tool! I feel another blog topic coming on…

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