Lessons Learned From the Social Media Marketing Practices of Non-Profit Organizations

jvaishnav    November 11, 2015

Organization name: Family & Children’s Services of Waterloo Region Foundation

Industry: Non-profit (registered charity)

Name of contact: Valerie Beyer, Donor Relations Coordinator

Web references:

The Globe and Mail: Canada’s Top 100 Non-Profit Organizations (Registered Charities)

Bufferapp: Social Media for Non-Profits: High-Impact Tips and the Best Free Tools

HubSpot: The “Three A’s” of Nonprofit Social Media Engagement

SlideShare: Online Fundraising with Social Media

Koozai blog: How Social Media Has Changed Charities Forever

Engagement Labs: Social Media Lessons From Canada’s Top Charities

Podcast: 10 Best Practices in Social Media for Social Causes

Social Media Benchmark Study’s 2015 report

Why non-profits?

As a social media marketer, I read up on the latest B2B social media marketing trends, best practices and shining examples on a weekly basis. I learn a great deal from sites like socialmediaexaminer.com, mashable.com and socialmediatoday.com, and I subscribe to a variety of LinkedIn discussion groups.  But I’ve never looked at social media marketing from the perspective of a non-profit or charitable organization. How do they see the world of social media?  Is it about marketing or has social media become more than a marketing tool?  How important a role does social media play in their marketing mix? Do non-profits devote more resources to social media than a typical B2B organization?  These are questions I aim to answer and learn from, in this article.

How social media fits into the marketing mix

Compared to the corporate world, non-profit organizations (NPOs) – many of which are registered charities, have some unique qualities and needs. Given the majority of NPOs have a goal of helping others and a structure based on donations and community membership, social media – with its inherent ability to be used for communicating and engaging with the masses, becomes an interesting and important tool.

In a survey performed by the Case Foundation, it was seen that nearly half of non-profits (47%) find the pinnacle of engagement to be a donation. This article on social media for non-profits, delves into the survey findings and reveals that 88% of non-profits find email and websites to be their most important communication tools. However, 97% of the NPOs surveyed said they were on Facebook.  There is evidence to suggest that social media may overtake email in the near future. The Social Media Benchmark Study’s 2015 report, finds that social media follower totals for NPOs are still only 10 – 30% of their email subscriber totals, however – social followers are growing 3x faster than email subscriptions. A recent survey by mashable.com also found that the majority of those surveyed, first learn about new charity initiatives through social media.

Majority of users find new charities by social media

So how are NPOs using social media?

First, let’s look at the marketing landscape for an NPO that isn’t primarily focused on driving donations. I had the opportunity to speak with Kelly Millar, Recruiting and Admissions coordinator for the School of Accounting & Finance (SAF) at the University of Waterloo.  In our video interview, Kelly explains how the marketing team at SAF uses social media to market to prospective students, with a goal of engaging them early in their evaluation of schools.

For NPOs overall, evidence suggests that social media is being used as a low cost channel to broadcast more than converse. Some organizations are using crowdfunding to raise money, and digital agency koozai, suggests others are leveraging social media for data:

“From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to Movember, the No Make Up Selfie to Refuge, very few people remain untouched by charities through the power of Social Media. The advent of such accessible and low cost platforms as Facebook and Twitter has allowed a portal of mammoth proportions to open for charities, allowing them a level of reach, engagement, and just as importantly, viable data, never seen before.”

In the podcast, “10 Best Practices in Social Media for Social Causes”, we learn how Anthony Caridi of KasuFunding.com, and social media analyst Shane Gibson, leveraged an active social media community in Vancouver to raise over $12,000 in a 24-hour period for the Make a Wish Foundation, with nearly 100% of donations coming from Twitter and Facebook.   The power of social media to market a cause and foster engagement in the form of donations, couldn’t be more apparent.

Social media marketing formulas for NPOs

In this SlideShare presentation by HubSpot on the topic of online fundraising with social media, a new concept is introduced:  ROI = Realization of Influence. The formula for ROI is respond, recognize and retweet.

While responding in a timely manner and retweeting relevant information is a tried and true practice in B2B marketing, recognizing others is something that all organizations should consider.  For a registered charity, recognition should be given to donors. The advice from HubSpot is to “celebrate” by thanking donors, announcing when milestones have been met and showing the impact they have made. They also advise NPOs to start a social media marketing committee.

Steve Shattuck at HubSpot, recommends a slightly different formula for non-profits – appreciation, advocacy, and appeals — the “three A’s.”

The Three A's of Social Media Marketing

Appreciation for donors and appeals for donations are fairly self-explanatory.  Advocacy refers to sharing information and educating others about your mission or cause. Shattuck further explains:

“Social media is an excellent outlet for sharing information that raises awareness and educates, outside of the context of fundraising. Follow other groups that advocate for or conduct research into the topics that are relevant to your nonprofit and share their content. Getting involved with their content — which can be done by engaging in discussions, asking questions, and sharing stories — can go a long way in boosting awareness of your cause and organization.”

What’s interesting is that the ROI model, doesn’t suggest using social media for appeals. There seem to be mixed thoughts on this in the Charity community. From what I’ve seen, all charities are using social media to call for donations, but they are doing so at varying levels.  UNICEF is a charity that takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to using social media for fundraising:

UNICEF - Donations not Likes campaign
















UNICEF’s campaign is a good reminder to followers that if you really “like” the cause, you need to put your money where your like is.

Social Media at Family & Children’s Services

An NPO that uses social media in a way that exemplifies the ROI and Three A’s models, is Family & Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region Foundation.  The Foundation is the fundraising arm of FACS and is a registered charity.

In my conversation with Valerie Beyer, the Foundation’s Donor Relations Coordinator, she explained that their use of social media involves marketing, but also goes well beyond:

“For Valerie Beyer, FACSthe Foundation, social media is used not only as a means of increasing awareness, but also as a way of building team/organizational pride, sharing information about services, events and programs, as well as extending thanks to our donors and community supporters. It has proven quite successful for donation drives (e.g., BackPack Project for back to school).

For the Foster/Adopt team it is a support mechanism for the Foster & Adopt families as well as a way of quickly and easily sharing information and resources. In addition, it is used for recruiting of new foster and adoption families and, occasionally, by showing a video to encourage adoption of a particular child.

Family Finders uses Facebook to aid in locating family/next of kin of children that are brought into FACS care. We try as much as possible to place children with family members (a proven successful model) before considering foster and adoption. Social media can spread the word quickly to a very large geographic area.”

A video was created to promote and explain the Backpack Project. The video was uploaded to YouTube and Facebook and was shared throughout the social media campaign.

Throughout the campaign, FACS appealed for donations, advocated for the cause, and showed appreciation and recognition for its donors.  Specific milestones were announced and supporting posts were commented on, retweeted or reposted, maximizing awareness and engagement.

FACS backpack donations

FACS Backpack Project

In total, the campaign was able to raise enough supplies and funds to deliver 575 filled backpacks for students in the Waterloo Region.

575 backpacks donated

Lessons for others

At the start of this article we talked about the uniqueness of NPOs. But are they really that unique?  In the B2B social media world, we talk about fans and followers. In the NPO world, followers are considered supporters. While the B2B organization is marketing products and solutions, and a charity is marketing a cause, the end result is that we want our customers – or our supporters, to give up funds. Whether tangible or intangible, everyone receives value for their funds. In either world, followers need to be educated – whether we’re educating them on why our technology is better – or why our cause is more deserving – similar marketing tactics are driving awareness and engagement.

What I find most different between the corporate world and the NPO community, is the willingness or desire to give thanks. I was in a recent business meeting where there was much debate over whether a website banner thanking customers would offer any value. In the NPO world this discussion wouldn’t have been necessary – thanking the people who fund the organization has become a regular social media occurrence.

Key takeaways for B2B social media marketers:

  1. Review your content strategy and consider how the ROI or Three A’s model could add more value. If you can see it – change it.
  2. Consider extending thanks. B2B organizations are in business because of partners and end-customers, so recognize these communities.
  3. Educate clients on your mission and your “cause”. Your cause is to solve your customers’ challenges.
  4. Survey findings show that followers have to believe in a cause to donate to it. Likewise, customers need to believe in your solution to invest in it. Share examples regularly, of customers who have solved their challenges with your solutions.
  5. Everyone loves a goodwill story. Share the social responsibility acts of your business and you may grow a new audience of fans and supporters.

For additional lessons, check out the article: “Social Media Lessons From Canada’s Top Charities”.

Submitted by: Julie Vaishnav

To contact the author of this entry, please email at:  julie.vaishnav@hotmail.com

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.