Social Media for Nonprofits: Smarten Up Your Plan With These Tips

Social media is where things go viral. It’s where many of us spend a great deal of our time, and it has the potential to build communities in ways no one ever thought possible. But without a clear plan, social media for nonprofits can feel too complicated and time-consuming.

It takes a lot of time to do social media well, and it is so easy — and common! — to feel like you’re floundering. While we don’t have any quick and easy fixes, we do have this formula that won’t hurt and will help.

Step 1: Assess your strategies.

You don’t have to convince us that you’re busy. We know. And we’re grateful because you get a lot of awesome stuff done. But, trust us, off the cuff posts on social media for nonprofits with no strategy behind them aren’t worth your time. Grab yourself a glass of water or cup of tea and jot down some things. In particular:

  • Goals — Why are you doing this? What do you want to get for your organization or individual campaigns out of social media? What does success look like? [This last one, in particular, is hard. Feel free to come back to these often and refine what you’ve jotted down.]
  • Resources — What kind of volunteers, time, content, and skills do you have for social media for the next month or so?
  • Audience — What do you know about the people you want to engage? What common characteristics or demographics do they share? Do you know their availability? What platforms are they on? Can you see what they are doing on those platforms? What do you want them to do?
  • Message — What is the best way to share it? Will a photo convey it? Do you have a video that explains it better? Is it time for a meme? Maybe it’s a simple call to action with an action alert URL?

You now have the foundation of your strategic social media plan. This is a blueprint — a starting point — that you’ll edit and edit some more.

Step 2: Articulate your social media plan.

This is where you figure out how to employ your resources to activate your audience. You want folks to pick up your message and help you meet your goals! WHOA. Planning brings it all together, right?!

Here are some examples of things you’ll do at this stage:

  • Recruit your peeps: volunteers (or volun-tolds, in the case of your colleagues and board members!), interns, etc.
  • Develop social media guidelines: give your team clear criteria for representing your organization (Need help? You have options!)
  • Select your platforms and cross-posting tools: it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of focusing and firmly saying NO to tools you just don’t have the time for (Snapchat is cool, but is it really going to help you meet your goals?)
  • Plan weekly check-ins: you can do this alone, or with a team, but you should plan how you’ll be editing your social media plan on a regular basis, updating it with your keep-stop-start hat on and with metrics (clicks, conversions, likes, etc.) in mind.

Step 3: Schedule what you can.

When working on social media for nonprofits, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all of the other priorities that you have for your organization.

If you’re doing your weekly check-ins on your own, then schedule some time to assign other things to your team — for example, you might put people on content generation, reporting success and failures, recruiting the organization’s board and staff to participate, or anything else you can think of that allows you to focus on the planning and strategy and be less burdened by implementation.

An Editorial Calendar will be your best friend at this stage. Our friends at Hootsuite, whom we love for encouraging as much scheduling and pre-planning as possible, have created this cool template that we recommend modifying for platform and any other columns you need. They have a bunch of other templates we hope you’ll also geek out on right here. If it’s too much for now, bookmark it for next week’s check-in!

Step 4: Test!

How often is your first idea your best idea? If you’re like me, then probably not very often!

In fact, many companies like Upworthy actually require 25 headlines for any story, so that they can generate the best headline and test to see what will work best. By generating multiple headlines, you can optimize who sees your post and learn lessons for future posts.

In addition to headline, you can also test your images, landing page, and post text. Rather than going forward quantity and posting hundreds of untested posts, focus on quality to optimize those posts you do send out.

Step 5: Analyze your results regularly.

When working on social media for nonprofits, you’ll want to make sure you analyze your results regularly. This step should happen about a week after implementation (i.e., after you start posting things from your editorial calendar for a week).

Ask yourself (or your team) how your organization’s social presence fared in the past week. What did you learn? What was the best? Or the worst? Revisit your plan and editorial calendar with these in mind and decide what you’re going to keep, what you’re going to stop, and what you’re going to stop.

Step 6: Repeat!

Approaching your organization’s social media presence with a clear strategy will help you flounder less, learn more, and hopefully have some fun while you’re doing it!


Chelsea began her work with progressive organizations, online communication strategies, and nonprofit technology in 2005. She spent many years managing technical support, product development, and product marketing with Salsa Labs before joining the Cornershop team. Her passion for quality communication, authentic relationships, and creative nerds serves her well in her work. Chelsea tolerates three cats with her husband and two kids at the end of a dead-end gravel road in Wisconsin.