Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits: 10 Potential Objectives for Using Social Media

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Revised on May 23, 2014

I had a chance this week to speak at an event in front of several different local Orange County nonprofit organizations.  While nonprofits are beginning to understand the potential for social media engagement, my sense during the meeting was that efforts seemed to be centered around Facebook for the objective of merely gaining awareness for their organization in the community.  While utilizing Facebook to help in raising awareness for a nonprofit and its cause is a necessity to any social media strategy for nonprofits, there are many other things that nonprofits can be using social media for.  Similarly, there are also many other social media channels outside of Facebook that can also be as, or even more, effective, depending on the objective.  What is important here in creating a social media strategy is to first think about the potential objectives that nonprofits can utilize social media for.

Since nonprofits still rely on “income” to operate and have bills to pay like the rest of us, I wanted everyone in the audience to think of their organization like a business.  In this way, if social media were to be of use to us, it had to either increase revenues or decrease expenses.

I also wanted to try to get participants to think outside of the box based on my own experiences in social media strategy consulting.  I will be honest and upfront with you that I am no expert on nonprofits nor have experience working at a nonprofit (that will change, however, as I have recently accepted a position on the Marketing Committee of the United Way of Orange County).  But I hope that I can provide enough ideas to get you thinking, and hopefully make you see that there is value in engaging outside of Facebook for many reasons.

Using Social Media to Increase Revenues

There are many things a nonprofit can be using social media for to help increase income, including but not limited to:

1) Finding Grants – I would consider this the B2B side of nonprofits.  And if there is one place where grant-providing organizations and companies, and the Board members and decision makers that govern them, could be found, it would more than likely be LinkedIn.

2) High Income/Target Demographic Individual Outreach – The high income demographic is undoubtedly on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn’s advanced people search gives you an opportunity to pinpoint people in a way that Facebook can’t.  Of course, there are a variety of ways to find relevant people on Twitter as well.  I’m not suggesting that you spam these people in any way, but if they are active participants in these communities, there are ways of indirectly getting to know and networking with them.

3) Public Fundraising – There is no doubt that the general public is on Facebook.  However, Twitter is also important because 1) it is a place to get found because of all of the Twitter searches that are going on and 2) the virality of the platform means, on average, your message will be spread more times than on Facebook, all things being equal.  Your experience might differ, but I believe Twitter users are more religious about the ReTweet then Facebook users seem to be about the “Share” functionality.

4) Subscriber Retention – Fans of your nonprofit should want to be following you wherever you are, and this means you should be following them wherever they are!  Facebook Pages are no brainers, but I do suggest you also become active on Twitter as well as even consider creating a LinkedIn Group or a subgroup for your area if you are a national organization.  What about your subscribers that aren’t in these communities?  They still want want to know the great things you are doing for the community or your cause, so why not be sharing more of your stories through videos on YouTube or a blog on your website which you can then add in to your email newsletter?

5) Event Promotion – Social media can be utilized effectively for event promotion in a number of ways, but the most important thing is to register your event across all of the platforms where your target demographic might be: Facebook Events, LinkedIn Events, TwtVite, and maybe even Plancast.  If you are limiting your event promotion to Facebook you might be missing out: When we promoted the ConnectOC event for nonprofits using social media, we had almost as many RSVPs on our LinkedIn Event as we did on our Facebook Event.

6) General Public Outreach – This is the one part of a social media strategy where I see a need for nonprofits to start blogging and telling their stories.  This can also be done on YouTube.  Either way it gives nonprofits a way to get found on the Internet where we aren’t spending 25% of our online time in social media: Google and the other search engines, including the 2nd largest of them all: YouTube.  Plus, this becomes more content that you can now share in your other social media channels.

7) Collaboration with Other Nonprofits – I consider this similar to Strategic Alliances in a business sense.  Similar to Finding Grants, this is another B2B aspect that nonprofits can use not only LinkedIn for but also Twitter because of the ability to easily communicate with others should they be active on the platform.  Reach out to other nonprofits in your area or maybe that are aligned with your cause in another part of the country or world and see what you can learn from each other or potentially collaborate on.

8) Advertising – I normally don’t recommend advertising as part of a social media strategy, but the ability to micro-target certain demographics on Facebook to promote your Facebook Page and increase public awareness is something that should be considered should limited budget allow for it.

Using Social Media to Decrease Expenses

9) Find Interns & Volunteers – This is a no brainer that a lot of nonprofits are hopefully already doing.  But did you know that there is a healthy population of professionals in transition that are considering volunteering as part of their job search?  While this may be a short-term approach, it can give your organization a potentially huge boost by utilizing the skills and experience of a potential mentor and maybe even future board member for your organization.  Where to reach out?  LinkedIn, of course!  With younger interns & volunteers Facebook will be your prime choice.  Either way, don’t forget about Twitter either!  And remember: these “temporary” professional volunteers may turn out to be your Board member or subscriber in the future!

10) Social Recruiting – Recruiting can cost a lot of money.  Why not use social media to outreach directly to your target future employees?  If they are not fit for the job, they may Pay It Forward and help spread the news for you.  Once again, the site that attracts the most jobseekers is LinkedIn, but don’t forget about Twitter here either.

One data point concerning recruiting via social media: It was through LinkedIn that the United Way of Orange County found and contacted me!

There is no one single definitive social media strategy for nonprofits because of these various potential objectives, but I wanted to point out that if you are only looking to utilize Facebook in a narrow way, your organization really is missing out on the enormous potential that social media can bring to your nonprofit.

How is your nonprofit organization utilizing social media?  Any other objectives to add to the above list or advice on social media strategy for nonprofits?

For an up-to-date on look on why your nonprofit needs a social media strategy, check out the informative infographic below:

Why Nonprofits Need a Social Media Strategy #nonprofits #npo #infographic

Infographic Source: Winspire
Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
Thanks for sharing @pierrekhawand - 6 hours ago
Neal Schaffer


  1. says

    Neal, your points are on target and insightful. In this day and age I’m happy to see you address the “Decrease Expenses” section. At times, non-profits may hold back on efforts to not dilute funds, but understanding the social media avenue to spread awareness and recruit volunteers …volunteers who probably would not have been reached without the non-profits’ use of social media. I’m assisting a non-profit in its infancy stage embark on a huge fund raising campaign, and this article is on point…with perfect timing! Thanks, Neal!

    • says

      Thanks Reggie…glad to hear that you are also helping out with nonprofits. I challenge anyone who “gets” social media to help out a local nonprofit and help spread the wealth…for all!

    • says

      I spoke on this article mainly about a channel strategy. You have brought up a great question regarding engagement strategy. I think anyone could be the face of the organization, and it doesn’t even have to be one person. It really depends on the size of the organization, their personnel, and their objectives for using social media. Sorry that there is no easy answer for this, but I don’t think it makes a big difference who from the organization is engaging with the public. I think the what, where, and how are more important!

  2. says

    For one thing neal congrats on the new offer and position with United Way of Orange County. Also, this was some very informative information that you offered right here. Especially with using LinkedIn to build a following and building more connections as well. When thinking about it, it would make a lot more sense to use LinkedIn to build that following and not just focus on Facebook. I see a lot of people just only using Facebook now and really limiting themselves to only one social media source instead of leveraging the other platforms that are available to them.

      • says

        Yes Twitter is also another platform that a lot of people forget to use as well. I truly noticed the power of Twitter during the VMA when various artists would become a trending topic within .2 seconds and that is one viral and important tool to have for your business.

  3. says

    Recognize volunteers. Showing your top volunteers and the work they do, on your blog, on twitter, tagging them on Facebook in pictures showing their good works, can be a powerful thank you method. It can also encourage others to join in.

  4. Woppito says

    Great points, Howard.

    Neal – I think this is a really informative and useful article, thanks. After interning at a small nonprofit last year, I became very interested in how social media can be utilized within this sector. I actually decided to do my master’s thesis on what nonprofits are communication via social media, specifically Twitter. Some of my results were mentioned in an article at the Nonprofit Times in addition to opinions and ideas on social media from nonprofit execs. Check it out if you are interested

  5. Noreen says

    Neal – great ideas and compelling arguments for using social media. I hope to incorporate some of these strategies soon. Thanks!

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