Recently, Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) asked the burning question, is social media a time-waster for nonprofits? In this post, we address this pressing nonprofit social media strategy question.

First of all, we’ve written a few posts on creative and easy ways not-for-profits can us social media effectively for storytelling (especially with video):

  • GoPro: Nonprofit Storytelling
  • YouTube: Nonprofit Success Stories
  • Periscope: Power of Telling Your Story While Live Streaming

But, we have yet to address the fundamental issue as to why having a nonprofit social media strategy is necessary and how best to go about implementing one.

If nonprofits on a budget are looking to effectively invest their time and money into harnessing social media, they probably should look into the facts and figures of each platform first. – The Guardian

In this post, because of its potential impact on philanthropic giving, we’ll look at some of the surprising facts and predictions on global social media growth.

Why Nonprofits Can’t Ignore the Social Media Philanthropic Marketplace

It’s important to realize, social media can have a significant impact on your cause.

1 – By 2018, the number of social network users worldwide is predicted to grow to 2.67 billion, or nearly one-third of the projected global population.

Fact: By the end of 2014, 25% of the world’s population was active on social media.

The global population of social media users is projected to grow leading to nonprofit social media growth

2 – Total philanthropic giving is expected to increase 4.1% in 2016 and 4.3% in 2017 with the vast majority of giving by individual donors.

Total nonprofit giving to is predicted to increase by 4.1% in 2016 and by 4.3% in 2017.

Another key point, in 2016 and 2017, total giving is expected to rise above historical 10-year and 25-year average rates of growth. (Total giving in both years will be slightly below the 40-year average growth rate of 4.4%.)

Specific factors that will significantly influence total giving in 2016 and 2017 include:

  • Above-average growth in the S&P 500 in preceding years and projected years
  • Average growth in personal income
  • Slightly above-average growth in household and nonprofit net worth

3 – According to Abila’s 2016 donor loyalty study, Matures (born in 1945 or earlier) donate $683 annually, Boomers  $478, Gen Xers $465 and Millennials $238.

According to Pew Research, Millennials now comprise the largest generation in the workforce (more than one in three workers in the U.S. is a Millennial). In fact, they make up the largest percentage of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, surpassing Gen Xers and Boomers.

The chart shines a spotlight on areas where the generations converge and diverge of nonprofit giving

4 – Donors 40-59 years old (a cross between GEN Xers and Boomers) are now the most likely to give online.

Surprisingly, donors 40-59 years old are now the most likely to give online, countering the conventional wisdom that younger donors are more likely to give online, according to the latest survey commissioned by Dunham+Company and conducted by Campbell Rinker.

5 – According to the 2016 Global NGO Online Technology ReportMillennials are most inspired to give by social media.

Prediction: Gen X will prefer mobile apps.

Millennials are most inspired to give to a nonprofit by social media.

6 – According to the 2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report:

  • 95% of nonprofits worldwide have a Facebook Page
  • 83% have a Twitter Profile
  • 40% are active on Instagram

In fact, one of the main reasons why social networks are becoming so popular among nonprofit organizations is because one can have a significant impact on large amounts of people with a relatively small or no budget.

That’s because social media – by its nature – has already organized people into micro-communities. These communities appear in various forms, such as:

  • Facebook Groups
  • Twitter lists
  • LinkedIn discussion forums

As a result of all of these social networks (clustered by very specific topics), tend to attract the right type of donor – those who are truly passionate or interested in the subject at hand.

7 – Quality content that’s quickly consumable is far preferable to long-form content that can cause the reader to lose interest and even become agitated and annoyed.

The image below shows the type of content donors like, from the most preferable to the least preferable, according to Abila’s 2016 study.

Content nonprofit donors like, from most preferable to least preferable.

Other nonprofit social media statistics that support the need for nonprofit use of social media

1 – According to UNC School of Government, in the last five years, one in five adults in the U.S. – adding up to 49.1 million people – has donated to a nonprofit online.

2 – Email and websites, according to a 2015 Social Media Benchmark study, remain the most used audience engagement tools among non-profit organizations.

3 – Social media, according to the same report, however, is catching up as Facebook and Twitter followers grew 42 percent and 37 percent respectively for nonprofits last year. That is significant considering that email lists only rose by 11 percent during the same period.

4 – To find out which social networks were the most popular, HubSpot conducted a survey with small-to-medium nonprofit organizations in the U.S., and especially relevant to our pressing question, here is what they found:

1- Facebook (98%)

2- Twitter (~70%)

3- LinkedIn (~55%)

4- YouTube (~45%)

5- Pinterest (~25%)

6- Instagram (~15%)

7- Google+ (~15%)

8- Flickr (~10%)

9- Tumblr (~5%)

10- SlideShare (<5%)

For most nonprofits, email subscribers still far outnumber social media followers — but that doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore these channels. Benchmarks X gives an extensive rundown on how nonprofits are using social media — and how supporters are responding.

Finally: For Every 1,000 email subscribers, nonprofits have 355 Facebook followers, 132 Twitter followers, and 19 Instagram followers.

For Every 1,000 Email Subscribers, a Nonprofit Has...


Clearly, research shows that nonprofits who use social media for more than just “marketing” are reaping significant benefits.

According to, social media for nonprofits is the prime tool for:

  1. Educating and engaging people who could and should care about your cause.
  2. Keeping and growing your donor database.
  3. Establishing your organization as the focal point – especially for those who care about your cause.
  4. Shedding light on misinformation and empowering your community to speak out for you.

Most importantly and contrary to widespread opinion, social media will save time by leveraging the conversations and thought leadership that is happening in private and extending it to the wider world where enlightenment is needed.

What is holding back your nonprofit social media strategy?

Considering the predictions and facts above, do you still think having a nonprofit social media strategy is a time-waster? What are the significant constraints?

Here are some of the reasons we’ve heard from our users:

  1. Lack of resources
  2. Time consuming
  3. Limited understanding of the value of social media by the (mature) board

→This is an easy problem to solve. Just share the global nonprofit and social media stats (see above) with your board because the facts alone make a compelling case!

However, it’s important to keep these three things in mind when creating your nonprofit social media strategy.

Developing a nonprofit social media strategy

Step #1: First, ask yourself, what do you hope to achieve with social media?

  • Increase fundraising capacity
  • Method for volunteer recruitment
  • Advocacy
  • All of the above

A social media strategy anchors your social networking actions and activities to SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based). It measures, analyzes and refines. No nonprofit achieves long-term success without one. – Nonprofit Marketing Guide

Step #2: Next, ask yourself the following:

1 – How can social media help meet your goals and objectives?

2 – What types of messages does your nonprofit want to use social media for and what form do you want to use for these messages? Does your nonprofit take a lot of pictures or how about using video?

3 – Who is your target audience and which social media sites do they already use?


Understand your audience – it’s not enough to know who they are.

Furthermore, it’s imperative to understand what they need and want in a social media relationship.

And, monitor their conversations and learn their tone.


Addressing Your Lack of Resources

Despite the desire to blanket the social media space, it is not always appropriate and possible to participate on every platform available.

From Pacific Continental’s white paper on The Power of Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations, the following are some of the most popular sites and tools to consider.

Pick just one or two to start.

  • Facebook: Utilize Facebook to communicate softer news and build community.
  • Twitter: Stay connected to followers by sending quick updates or relevant information that is timely and interesting.
  • Flickr: Manage photos and other images while sharing them with the public. For nonprofit organizations, this seems like an efficient way to feature pictures of events and activities.
  • YouTube: Upload and share video clips with the public. Like Flickr, another multimedia source to share events and activities.
  • Blogs: Share more in-depth ideas, tips, and expertise related to your cause.
  • Podcasts: Record news and information about your organization, framed by relevant current events data, to educate audiences.
  • LinkedIn: Be introduced to and collaborate with other professionals. As a result, LinkedIn becomes a great way for development directors to stay connected to their corporate donor contacts and prospects.

Also, explore social networks that have built-in business accounts.

For example, Facebook has Facebook pages, YouTube has a Nonprofits on YouTube program, and Pinterest has Pinterest Business accounts. These accounts usually come with features nonprofits need, like analytics and apps.

Addressing the time-consuming nature of social media

Use Smart Automation

Particularly relevant to using smart automation to save time, here’s an excellent article that talks about how to use social media automation and RSS feeds:

Start RSS Feeding Content Today With to Social Media [HOW-TO]

In conclusion, social media is probably not a time-waster for your nonprofit if done smartly. But, taking the time upfront to implement a well thought out strategy is especially important.


What is holding back your nonprofit social media strategy? What do you like, love and hate about social media? We’d love to hear from you.