Skip to content
social media marketing on a budget

4 Tips for Nonprofit Social Marketing: Small Budgets, Big Impact

Leslie Nuccio

Jan 20, 2020

I’ve done a lot of volunteer nonprofit work in my private life, and I’ve worked with several 501(c)(3)’s in my professional life too.  In the past couple years, there have been a lot of articles on the way that big nonprofits have made a big impact on social media, and rightly so: the HRC’s amazing equality avatar campaign and the ALS’s famous Ice Bucket Challenge have been two charity initiatives that demonstrated the awesome power that social media, as a channel, has to exponentially increase awareness for a cause.

Those campaigns were hugely successful, to be sure… but both of these organizations have resources far beyond the usual 501(c)(3).  However, that doesn’t mean that the lessons from their campaigns can’t be utilized for the little guys.  And so, without further ado:

4 Big Tips for the Little Guys: Nonprofit Social Marketing Made Easier

1) Use Imagery & Video Where You Can

A picture is worth 1,000 words… and a lot more clicks and engagement on social channels than text.  Both the HRC and the ALS counted on image-driven status updates to drive awareness of their campaigns, and it paid off big-time for both organizations.  One channel that’s sorely underused by nonprofits is Pinterest: if you don’t have a Pinterest profile and you’re an NPO, you’re missing out on your target donation and volunteer demographic: women.  Pinterest actually has data that tells us which topics resonate on which days (scroll to the last piece of this social media infographic to see them). So this is definitely a channel worth exploring.

If you’re having trouble coming up with enough visual assets for your nonprofit social marketing efforts, perhaps #2 can help…

2) Use Your Armchair Activists as Content Marketers

One of the little-known facts about nonprofit work is this: it’s not necessarily that we lack volunteer power, but rather that we aren’t sure how to best utilize the folks volunteering.  In the age of social media marketing, though, even the most agoraphobic volunteer can be of use when it comes to your nonprofit social marketing, most especially your efforts on Facebook and Twitter.  Facebook, for example, rewards a brand’s engagement: its algorithm now looks to a Page’s most active followers to let them know whether or not a post is worth bumping up to the top (which is called “story bumping” – for more on this, check out our e-book on Facebook Reach).  If your usual suspects don’t engage with a post, your Reach is severely limited.

Remember, social networks themselves are after engagement: this is what helps them sell ad space.  Coordinating our efforts so that folks are all sharing at once lets the algorithms behind Facebook and Twitter understand that something is popular, and that will help it rise to the top of an activity stream.

That being the case, one great way to utilize volunteers is to coordinate them when something we post is meant to be shared to a larger audience.  By coming up with a simple content marketing plan for them – something as simple as an email list that gives them the link to the content we want shared, the messaging behind it, and when we want them to do it can work – you’ll stand a better chance of maximizing your exposure.

Another way to use volunteers is in the sourcing and creation of imagery, video and blog posts.  Creative projects can be fun for the folks that have an interest there, and we can also run contests to produce the best avatar, video or campaign slogan. One trick that always works in animal rescue, for example, is “cute dog” calendar contests.  These sorts of programs can garner us a lot of marketing material at no cost, while simultaneously keeping volunteers (and possibly their social networks, as in the “cute dog” contests) engaged.

3) Leverage the Power of Peer Pressure

Social media is a powerful channel for one reason: the social network.  The personal networks of our supporters give us the chance to make an impression on an audience that we may not otherwise engage, and the social share is what gets us there, (for more on this, check out this article on brand advocacy and earned social media).  When I logged into Facebook during the Prop 8/DOMA trials and noticed that a bunch of my friends had changed their profile pics to a red and pink equal sign, I was confused… and it got my attention.  Once I realized what the HRC had done, I too changed my profile pic… and watched as a bunch of my own friends changed theirs, too.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was another great and more active example of chain letter mentality: people were asked to challenge 3 friends to join them.  Making that sort of “pass it on” an active and easily-executed request is a fantastic way to take advantage of the inherent power of your supporters’ social networks.  Give them a good reason to spread the word: people feel good about themselves when they take an action for charity, even when it’s something as simple as an avatar change or a share on your friend’s wall.

4) Find and Engage Like-Minded Peers, Supporters & Partners

One of the awesome things about cause marketing, when you’re trying to expand your community, is that people typically are supporting a cause first and an organization second – and so you’re already part of a larger community.  That being the case, we nonprofit social marketers can find really valuable partners, influencers and supporters on Twitter and Facebook.  Facebook Graph Search is a fantastic way to find people: a search like “People who like HRC and live in Omaha” can give us a list of folks who we might, at the local level, want to meaningfully engage at a 1:1 level.  We can also use Facebook Interest Lists to get new followers, find engaging topics, and engage Fans (for more on this, check out this article on how to use Facebook interest lists).  Lastly, we can check out who’s following other orgs who tackle your cause on Twitter by checking out follower and interest lists.