How Nonprofits Use Social Media to Engage with Communities

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A new study from the Case Foundation and Social Media for Nonprofits, based on a survey of almost 500 nonprofits, helps advance the conversation around how nonprofits use social media to engage their communities. What is working and why?

To better understand how nonprofit practitioners integrate social media and online communications into their strategies, the Case Foundation in collaboration with Social Media for Nonprofits, created an informal survey to help advance the conversation around how nonprofits use social media to engage their communities. Close to 500 nonprofit professionals, who are involved with running their organization’s social media and online communications efforts, responded to the survey detailing their own methodologies and practices.

The answers proved to be insightful and revealing. From these responses, we’ve aggregated key takeaways, tips and tools that have proven most effective for them and shared them below. (See full results here, n=480.)

Email & Websites Still Rule: Nonprofits overwhelmingly (88%) said their most important communication tools were email and their websites, even though fully 97% of them are on Facebook. This may have to do with the fact that in their mind, the pinnacle of engagement is a donation (47%). Clearly, simply getting folks to retweet or comment (18% each) is helpful only to the extent it culminates in financial support, which still typically happens through a donate page.


More Focus on Social: Just about half our respondents had one or less staffers overseeing their social media efforts, and the remaining half was split between teams using a social media policy to guide their efforts, and those winging it. This is actually more upscale than Social Media Benchmark Study’s finding that most nonprofits only allocate ¼ of one full-timer, so it seems nonprofits are starting to allocate more personnel to their efforts. Yet lack of manpower is still the biggest challenge facing nonprofits, followed by moving beyond the “like” and transcending cute kitty photos.

It’s All About Moi: When asked how nonprofits engage their communities with social media, most (74%) use social networks as a megaphone, announcing events and activities and sharing organization-centric info. Only 53% actually follow the best practice of posting issue-centric content to establish thought leadership in their nonprofit’s area(s) of focus. Clearly, the sector still has a long way to go on this front.


Managing What You Measure: Although Facebook Insights topped our list of the most popular social measurement tools/metric (70%), followed by number of Twitter followers (43%), fully 60% of our audience still believe that there is no benchmark for what an average engagement rate is on Facebook. 22% said 2-4%, but from our personal experience, only the most engaging posts from nonprofits with highly active communities can hope to attract those numbers.

So what does that mean for you and what can you do learn from your peers in the nonprofit space? Check out these four tips aggregated from survey responses:


That does it for some of the big takeaways from our first-ever social media engagement survey. Be sure to check out the companion piece on looking at survey results on engagement through social media and online channels.

  • Keenan Wellar

    Having learned from social media workshops I delivered throughout 2010-2012 (you’ll soon understand why I stopped) this article demonstrates that very little has changed with respect to non-profit (mal)practices. The problem is NOT related to technology or staff time. The problem is a fundamental disconnect between charitable organizations and the impact they are supposed to be making. As the information here clearly indicates, most of the non-profits surveyed see their purpose as “to raise money.” Too bad. I bet somewhere along the line they wanted to change the world. And so telling organizations over and over again that social media is all about engagement and being genuine is not going to alter their habits – unless it is about engaging a donor with genuine cash. Just yesterday I received a phone call from the manager of a non-profit Twitter account who was struggling with the fact that I chose to ask a question instead of simply mindlessly retweeting a link.

  • Rrobert Stephen Browning

    As a long-time non-profit executive, I see this as an unrealized opportunity in our unique marketplace niche. There are times when “shouting from the yard arm” makes absolute sense. But engaging your constituent in an ongoing discussion about ways to make a difference in implementing your mission is priceless.

  • Ritu Sharma

    Robert- Absolutely! Social media presents the biggest opportunity of our time to create meaningful and two way dialogue with our stakeholders– donors, constituents, volunteers, board members and supporters. It allows us to humanize the work and the impact we have as a sector as it forces us to move away from the megaphone PR speak culture and communicate more personally & conversationally. We connect with people when we communicate this way, we move them to care about the work we do, volunteer and donate when it is appropriate.

  • Ritu Sharma

    Keenan- We too do see some of it, but I think it is unfair to generalize that all nonprofits see their purpose as “raising funds”. You are right though that we as a sector have to do a better job of mapping our impact to donations and clearly demonstrate how the funds raised move the needle forward on social needs and issues that we exist to solve. Thank you for being part of that conversation and bringing attention to it.

  • Gayle

    This survey outlines the problem and offers some tips to help nonprofits engage beyond the like. For more tips visit:

  • Carol Sanderson

    But don’t you believe that God can reach people thorugh many means including increase of revenue? Remember that money is used to help God’s chruch to do the work of the church. Also for some like me…..I like using the technology… keeps me in touch with other christians….because of some illness I am not always able to participate in many activities at church but I can feel connected through social media. I don’t mind you asking a question……but do you mind answering one?

  • Charles

    A new company called Saepta ( has developed a real-time voting tool to help organizations better engage followers. Organizations can set up a issue-centric question and embed the vote box within their web site to engage readers / donors. The company’s corporate site is

  • Jacqueline Reiter

    I’m currently working on a social media plan for a NPO and found the information reported in this newsletter relevant and interesting. Thanks for the post.

  • Jackie

    Charles, good input on this–have you actually tried this? Was it effective?

  • Meg

    Great advice in here! I love the tip about having a plan when approaching social media as a nonprofit – there’s also great tips in this ebook, The Ultimate Online Marketing Guide For Social Good:

  • Elsa Collins

    Social Media is an alternative to mass media. Social Media is our voice!