Social media and the 501C3

Social media is public space in which people speak with each other, people they know, and people they don’t. High-traffic platforms are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. We, as a society, behave differently according to our social situation.

We will dress, sit, speak differently at a Yankees games than we would in synagogue. It is important for organizations to find the volume and cadence of their voice in social media, and to focus on the messages for each platform. Learn more about this as Johnny Vulkan, Anamoly, states in his interview for Show & Tell, YouTube’s channel to help brands engage with consumers online.



Facebook works best for avid social media fans. One needs an active presence and an ability to join conversations, as well as to lead them. Facebook fans like to “Like” and they like to trash. Best practices for Facebook involve an advertising budget and professional guidance, if not a dedicated social media manager, or at a minimum, someone dedicated to monitor the platform.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised $100M in August 2014 in a peer campaign on Facebook. So it’s safe to say – there is the opportunity to raise awareness and funds. Facebook has added Action Sprout, a no-cost advertising program for those who meet criteria.

Because Facebook is advertising driven, you can learn a great deal about the platform from their sales team. Words of caution for not-for-profits looking for time and attention on Facebook– all those likes feel good, the platform is good for sharing information, “likes” do not correlate to donations.  If creating brand awareness is the goal of your social media campaign, Facebook is an excellent platform for you.

Instagram is the small charities best choice in social media. Leading the field for inspiration on Instagram is Charity Water, and this is so logical, given that Instagram is social media for photographers.

Charity Water was founded by Scott Harrison, who forewent a successful career as a NYC club promoter to volunteer for MERCY SHIPS, a well established not for profit that provides medical care in Africa from a ship that pulls into ports up and down the coasts. Harrison’s role was to photograph the people needing medical care, and post-op, the people who’d benefited from medical care. So he put 10,000 hours into sharing the efficacy of philanthropy, with his camera.

The Charity Water Instagram feed is clear and pro-active about sharing the efficacy of the organization’s work. We see the positive results, we feel the reward. We join in the moment, drawn by the smile and guided by the direct captions that let us know our help is valuable, and still needed.

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We see Instagram working beautifully for Haiti Cardiac Alliance, in year one of the organization’s founding. HCA’s focus is saving the lives of Haitian children with cardiac issues. They are on the ground, moving at light speed to save lives. With Instagram, HCA’s Executive Director, Owen Robinson, shares the organization’s work, in their line of duty. Here, Pelensky, a young boy whose medical situation required a lengthy stay in the US, returns to Haiti, and in his own words, is reunited with his family.

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For best practices on twitter, view the platform in operation. Meena Hussain wrote an excellent article for NPQ on how non-profits can use Twitter effectively.  Here is a list of the top 50 not-for-profits on twitter, based on the number of followers.

For best practices for not-for-profits on YouTube, view the library of short videos at YTShowandTell, leading with this great advice from Mehera O’Brien.

Vine is fun, and now accepts edited content, not just made in camera. It’s a platform for the adventurous. The numbers are not quite there to justify a dedicated effort, but it also maybe where the puck is going, with an open paths to fans. Not-for-profits should start VINE at the Chronicle of Philanthropy account.

The most important place or a non-profit is search, because any likely donor will start researching your cause, and if you have brand awareness, your specific organization.


Google helps with search by offering a $10,000 monthly in free AdWords spending to qualifying non-profits in a program called AdGrants.

And, all this marketing is to promote your work. So make sure that if you are successful, and your online marketing brings a viewer to your website, that once there, they will find a clear description of what you do, how you do it, how donors fuel your work, and what they can expect from their donation.

Your website is the place you control the conversation. Just remember, that elevator rides were a lot longer than current consumer attention. You won’t have 60 seconds to say what you do. Today’s consumer is more liking to peek at your site when the door opens, and decide whether or not to get onto your floor. You have a few seconds of consumer attention, make them engaging.

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