From Ice Bucket Challenge to Retaliatory GivingWhat Social Media Can Do for Nonprofits

Email is still king in the nonprofit world. However, the return on investment of social media efforts can be quite impressive — even when it comes to fundraising. And for many nonprofits, social media now plays a large role in their everyday work, from creating awareness for issues and fostering change to actual fundraising. So let’s have a look at how nonprofits can use social media and hashtags, specifically.

Social media catching up to email

Many organisations still consider their websites and email marketing their most successful tools and see social as more of an afterthought. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, this can lead to even more effort being put into email and even less into social, thus reinforcing the idea that social doesn’t perform well.

Fortunately, more and more nonprofits are beginning to embrace social media. Often, this means taking a step away from the megaphone approach to Facebook and Co. and towards more engagement.

2017 Global NGO Online Tech Report

Throughout 2016, Nonprofit Tech for Good surveyed almost 5,000 NGOs from all over the world about their use of online technology. The resulting 2017 Global NGO Online Tech Report shows interesting insights into how NGOs think about and use social media:

  • 92% have a Facebook page
  • 72% have a Twitter profile
  • 39% have an Instagram profile
  • many nonprofits also use YouTube (55%), LinkedIn (51%), Google+ (28%), and WhatsApp (16%)

Of course, there are regional differences but overall, most nonprofits around the world are very active on social media networks, with a strong focus on Facebook and Twitter. Fewer but still an impressive 52% of them have even used social media to report live. And 17% of nonprofits have participated in or hosted a Twitter chat.

Last but not least, it’s important to look at why nonprofits are using social media:

  • 95% believe that social media plays an important role for brand awareness
  • 71% believe that social media is effective for online fundraising.
  • 88% agree that social media is effective for creating social change

These results from the 2017 NGO Tech Report show that social media channels are not just providing a platform for talking about issues and interacting with others but are also helping organisations raise funds.

“But we can’t afford a social media manager!”

A great social media presence takes an investment of time and, ideally, money by hiring a dedicated social media manager. Given the often limited funds of charities and other non-profits, social media can be a tricky subject, especially in smaller organisations.

While it may not always be possible to have a dedicated social media manager, it helps to put staff specifically in charge of social media to keep it from falling by the wayside. However, if multiple people cover social media, there have to be clear guidelines to prevent fragmentation.

Put a proper social media strategy and goals in place, so those responsible will have an easier time working towards a common goal. A clear social media policy ensures a consolidated voice on all channels.

An editorial calendar brings order into chaos. And readily available free social media tools help get the most out of the time spent on curating, crafting and posting content, as well as analysing results.

A bit of planning and organisation make it possible for small teams to pull off social media campaigns and fundraising efforts and properly utilise social media networks.

How Nonprofits use hashtags and hashtag campaigns

Once a general good social media practice is in place, many nonprofits start dipping their toes into hashtag campaigns. Nonprofits generally use hashtags and hashtag campaigns for one of the following reasons:

  • Networking
  • Creating awareness for a cause
  • Raising brand awareness for the nonprofit
  • Fundraising

Hashtags used for networking

Hashtags are often used among professionals as a means to connect and network, and nonprofits are no exemption in this. Conference hashtags, Twitter chats, or weekly hashtags like #charitytuesday keep nonprofit and fundraising professionals connected and allow them to exchange know-how and advice.

Using hashtags to create awareness for a cause

One of the main goals for nonprofits is usually fundraising. But often, nonprofits will create hashtag campaigns to raise awareness for a particular issue and create a basis for social change.

One of the most popular examples for this is #movember, a hashtag to be seen every November. Originally, this global hashtag was used to simply raise awareness for prostate cancer. Nowadays, it also includes fundraising and is driven by brands.

On the other hand, the #breastcancer hashtag has grown completely organically and is widely in use to raise awareness for breast cancer and create visibility for survivors. It’s also used by breast cancer nonprofits to ask for donations, making it both a conversation and resource hashtag as well as a fundraising hashtag.

Similarly, hashtags like #mentalhealth, #domesticviolence or #BlackLivesMatter are used widely by those affected as well as nonprofits associated with the topics to raise awareness and visibility.

Hashtags to create brand awareness

We might not like to think of nonprofit organisations as “brands” because it can sound so commercial. But at the end of the day, nonprofits are also just, more or less, brands as well — albeit with a non-commercial goal.

Aside from creating awareness for an issue, nonprofits can use hashtags to raise brand awareness for their organisation.

The brand hashtag #DoctorsWithoutBorders is used across Doctors Without Borders Instagram accounts in multiple countries and languages, as well as by other aid organisations and individuals. The widespread use of the hashtag creates a comprehensive picture of what the organisation is and does.

In the UK, National Trust hosts a weekly no-prizes, just-for-fun photo competition called #NTchallenge. The hashtag raises fan engagement, as well as brand awareness.

As it’s Easter soon, our #NTchallenge could only be one thing… This weekend, we’d love you to get snaps of *All things Easter* at our places. Whether you’ll be joining us for a @CadburyUK Egg Hunt, heading out on a springtime walk through fields of daffodils, or taking part in some Easter themed arts and crafts… We’d love to see your photos. As we’ve got an extra-long weekend to enjoy, you’ve got even longer to capture the perfect shot – just add the #NTchallenge hashtag to your photos from today until Tuesday. Only photos uploaded to Instagram from now until Tuesday are eligible – any photo taken and tagged is eligible to be posted (along with the copy) on both our Instagram channel and our other social channels; like Twitter and Facebook. Worth noting that we give preference to photos taken at National Trust places! Watch out on Tuesday for our winner and five runners-up. No prizes, this one’s just for fun! #nationaltrust

A post shared by nationaltrust (@nationaltrust) on

Using hashtags for fundraising

Last but not least, nonprofits have taken to running hashtag campaigns with the explicit goal of raising money. Likely, one of the most well-known campaigns is the Ice Bucket Challenge which went viral in 2014.

Thanks to many celebrity participants, the Ice Bucket Challenge social media fundraising campaign raised not just global awareness for the motor neurone disease ALS. It also raised 115 million dollars in a single month and ultimately funded a scientific breakthrough.

While not every nonprofit hashtag campaign will reach the heights of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there are many ways nonprofits can use hashtag campaigns to raise money for their causes. And they don’t even have to necessarily create their own hashtag campaign from scratch.

One way is to use an existing hashtag and turn it into a fundraising campaign, for example by using Pi Day for fundraising efforts. The hashtag #PiDay is usually trending on March 14 (or 3.14 in U.S. date format, hence the association with the number pi) and offers nonprofits a chance to attach themselves to it, whether it’s to ask for 3.14 in donations or challenging people to throw pies at each other and donate.

Don’t want to wait until Pi Day comes around again? Analogous to newsjacking or trendjacking, nonprofit organisations can also jump on the bandwagon of trending hashtags to turn them into a fundraising campaign. An example from the UK would be the #firstfiver and #finalfiver campaigns, asking people to donate their first new 5-pound note and last old 5-pound note, respectively, to a charity of their choice.

Another way for nonprofits to raise funds is to team up with big brands for a hashtag campaign. The idea behind these types of campaigns is to exchange exposure for funds. In 2016, UK homelessness charity Shelter teamed up with British Gas for the second time to raise funds. For every tweet using the hashtag #TweetForShelter British Gas donated £1 to the charity. In the end, the campaign went so well that British Gas raised the original cap of 25k to 100k.

Screenshot of a tweet by @newscot2 reading “Sitting in my nice warm home. Cosy inside, freezing outside. Not so 4 all. Scandal that people go cold in our rich country. #TweetForShelter” in reply to a tweet by Shelter reading: “For every use of the hashtag #TweetForShelter @BritishGas will donate £1 to Shelter - with the aim of raising £25,000. Tag your friends!”

Hashtag campaigns like this one benefit both sides. The nonprofit gets donations. The brand gets exposure as well as a boost to their image when the charity shares the campaign.

Bonus: Tweet to donate

In recent years and thanks to advances in technology, new ways of donating via social media have cropped up. For example, there are various ways to donate with a tweet.

Most of them are built on a simple principle: Charities sign up with a service that processes tweet donations. Users can then donate to those charities with a simple tweet or, with some services, a Facebook post or comment.

First-time donors get a simple sign-up link, where they enter their billing details. This only has to be done once for a service. From then on, donating is literally as simple as tweeting.

While signing up is completely free for nonprofits, these tweet-to-donate services do charge fees, much in the same way of PayPal and credit card processing fees. So why is it worth it for nonprofits to use this? For one, the admin charges connected to processing donations in other ways may be just the same if not higher. And that doesn‘t even take into account the overhead costs of chuggers etc. Tweet-to-donate services give nonprofits a chance to convert social media exposure into precious funds.

With tweet-to-donate apps, donating is literally as simple as tweeting. Click to Tweet

Furthermore, donating with a tweet takes the threshold for donations way down. Donating is a quick and simple process for donors and lets them easily share their charitable act.

There are various tweet-to-donate services available. Which one people use often simply depends on the charities signed up with each service. Here are a few examples:

  • Charitweet (Twitter) charges 5.9% + $0.50 per donation
  • Goodworld (Twitter, Facebook) takes 4.8%, and a further 2.2% + $0.30 go to payment processor Stripe
  • TinyGive (Twitter) fees come to 4.9% + $0.50, split between TinyGive and Stripe

Donation tweets generally just have to include the Twitter handle of the charity, the amount to be given, and the Twitter handle or hashtag of the donation service.

Donate with a tweet using Charitweet.
How to donate using Charitweet.
Donate with a Tweet using TinyGive
How to donate using TinyGive.

How to donate using Goodworld.

Retaliatory Giving

And then there’s Trigger which is a little bit… different.

Trigger is a rather new app based on “retaliatory giving”, allowing users to turn things that piss them off on social media into a positive reaction. After signing up with Trigger, users can simply reply to a hateful tweet using the following formula to give to an organisation: @TwitterHandle + $Amount + #TriggerGive.

Unlike most other tweet-to-donate services, Trigger charges a monthly fee of $1.79 to help keep the servers running, whether you use the service or not. Added to that is the Stripe processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30.

But this might be a fair price to pay for those who, rather than just giving to a cause they support, want the added satisfaction of pissing someone off — much like donating to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence‘s name.

We want to hear from you!

Are you a nonprofit using social media to drive awareness and fundraising? Have you considered accepting donations via tweets? Tell us about your experiences!