How to Leverage Social Media for Nonprofit Fundraising

5 min read

Social Media Marketing

Well Done works with a lot of nonprofits. We’re big proponents of working with people who are making the world a better place, and there’s a lot of that happening right here in Indianapolis. So when I got the opportunity to participate in a panel with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis’ Philanthropy University yesterday, I jumped at the chance.

Four other marketing and nonprofit professionals—Andrew Hayenga and Jordan Overton from Bohlsen Group, Pam Dechert from Blackbaud, and Vanessa Stiles from Victory Sun, Inc.—and I discussed the ways in which nonprofits can leverage social media for their fundraising goals. We spoke with volunteers and staff from each of the local YMCA centers, all of whom are wearing multiple hats, and may be responsible for marketing in addition to about a million other things. All kinds of great ideas take shape when you get a bunch of people in a room together who are passionate about the same things, so here are a few key takeaways from our session that may help other nonprofit marketers who are struggling with where to begin on social media.


  1. Go where your audience is. One question we heard multiple times (and I’ve heard from multiple clients) is “Which social networks should we be on?” This is an especially important question for the marketing manager who is also the development director, who is also planning an annual calendar of events. There are only so many hours in the day.

    First of all, you don’t need to be on every single social network. Focus your efforts on where your audience is spending their time, and the context and mindset that they’re in when they’re in that space.

    For example, if your target audience is moms in their 40s and 50s, you can safely say those people are spending their time on Facebook and Pinterest. If your goal is fundraising, you’re going to have much better luck generating awareness and interest and driving action on a platform where people are intentionally engaging with their community, organizations they appreciate, family, and friends, than you are on a platform where people are looking for recipes, landscaping tips, and free craft ideas. The context of the engagement matters. Asking for participation or action on Facebook is welcome and expected, while making this ask on Pinterest is an interruption.
  2. Social is one part of a bigger plan. Social media can be daunting to anyone for whom it doesn’t come naturally. And many fundraisers find themselves in a position where they’re expected to use tools and tactics that they’re not entirely comfortable with. When this is the case, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing social media as a bucket of tasks to cross off your list. How much time should I be spending on social media (so I can get it over with)? Is a question I hear a lot.

    Truthfully, it doesn’t take that much time, in terms of hours. But I’d encourage you to think of social media as just one of many ways to tell your story. You’re already doing the hardest work of developing programs for your community, hosting events, and impacting lives. All marketing is is sharing that work and telling the stories that come out of it.

    And most of the best versions of these stories don’t even have to come from you! Encourage your community—your volunteers, staff, members, and community leaders—to share what the work of your organization has meant in their lives. Brand advocates and ambassadors are always going to be able to communicate the value of your work in a more emotional and convincing way than you will. By encouraging and aggregating user generated content, you’re able to tell more authentic stories, and directly involve the people who bring those stories to life. 
  3. I’m gonna keep going on storytelling. Because that’s all that marketing is. The word feels overused these days, but it’s true. All we do all day as marketers is try to tell stories in a way that impacts people and moves them to action. And that action is the lifeblood of your organization. You depend on people being compelled enough to give so you can keep doing the good work that you’re doing.

    So how are you going to compel them to give? Tell your story. Tell it over and over in a hundred different ways. Tell the stories of the families whose lives are improved, of the animals saved, of the gardens planted and food grown. These are the reasons people care about your organization. So first and foremost, focus on sharing your work and your mission. Build up enough goodwill, trust, and sense of community through online storytelling (and yes, that is definitely a thing that can be done), and when the time comes to make a financial ask, your audience will be at the ready with their checkbooks, because they already know and trust you. 
  4. It’s okay to pay for it. You’re likely aware that Facebook is a pay-to-play environment for brand pages. Approximately 2% of your page’s fans are organically seeing the content you post to Facebook. That’s not very many. The only surefire way to overcome that is by boosting posts or promoting content through ads.

    While you’re out there spending thousands of dollars on direct mail (which certainly has its place), there are new audiences to tap into that are a mere $10 boost away. No joke, for as little as $5-10, you can extend the reach of your content by thousands. And not just any old thousands. The right thousands. Facebook allows you to target people based on zip code, age, gender, interest, their relationship to people who like your page, and a ton of other hyper-targeted options. So you’re not just throwing stuff against a wall and hoping it sticks. You’re throwing it into a catcher’s mitt.

    Plus, when you invest in digital advertising, you have the ability to directly track the return on those efforts. Not only can you see how many people interacted with your ad, with the right tracking tools you can also know which of those people came to your site and made a donation. And knowing is half the battle.