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The Biggest Social Media Mistakes to Avoid During Your Next Nonprofit Campaign [Part 1]

Marcella Vitulli

Recently, we've been taking a look at the ins and outs of nonprofit campaigns: everything from free tools you can use, how to properly do influencer outreach, and words of caution around trying to "go viral."

But we wanted to dive a little deeper into the social media aspect of nonprofit campaigns, so we called on Ritu Sharma, social media expert and CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, for some advice on mistakes to avoid during your next nonprofit campaign. Read on for Part 1 of her post! 


The idea of nonprofits using social media is no longer an experiment. Even if there were still doubts about social media’s usefulness in the nonprofit space early last summer, by the time the Ice Bucket Challenge had raised a record-breaking $115 million for the ALSA, those still on the proverbial fence became believers.

Whether the goal is to fundraise, drive attendance to a particular event, or drum up new advocates or volunteers for your cause, social media is one of your organization’s most effective tools. As long as you sidestep the many pitfalls that can sabotage your campaign’s success.

Below is a list of some of the biggest mistakes you can make – so you’ll avoid making them yourself.



At first glance, social media can appear chaotic – but there is definitely a method to the madness, and if you want your campaigns to succeed, you need to focus on the method part. Here are a few key questions to answer:

What’s your goal? More followers in advance of fundraising season? More donations to reach a new fundraising record? More volunteers to keep your organization running smoothly? Whatever the answer, you need to define it so that you can create and curate content that attracts the audience you are trying to reach in that moment.  

Who’s in charge of posting and follow-up? If you don’t already have a dedicated social media manager, you should consider getting one; but be careful not to fall for slick talk or someone claiming to be “tech savvy,” cautions Albert Costill at Search Engine Journal:

“Just because someone is “tech savvy”, and knows everything on the technical side of social media platforms, doesn’t mean they can handle the duties of a social media manager.

Sometimes, hiring a marketing or communication expert would be a better option since they will have a better understanding of what your audience is expecting, your business objectives, and [what] the ramifications of an offensive post can be.”  

You need someone with SOCIAL savvy. And don’t just throw this important job at a handy volunteer, cautions Guidestar.org. Find the right person, or team.

What will you post and when? An editorial calendar is always a good idea to keep your social posting on track, but during a short-term campaign it’s especially important. Because with a limited window you want to be sure you stay on message, which means planning blog topics and posts well in advance so nothing gets missed. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. New Media Campaigns offers a simple version to jump-off from. Make your editorial calendar as detailed as you want by using a spreadsheet and filling in the exact text/images/links you will post at varying times of day.



There are a number of ways to go wrong as you’re sharing posts. Here are the major slip-ups to avoid:

Over/Under-posting – 6-8 posts per day, divided between original content, retweets, and replies to others is the goal on Twitter (about once per hour); and once per day (or every other day) works on Facebook pages. Any more or less and you’ll come across as either spammy or flaky. Scheduling services like Buffer and Hootsuite make it easy to stay consistent.

Constantly asking for money – Yes, you need donors to survive, but Top Nonprofits points out that too many appeals for donations comes across as desperate: “[A]sks for financial contributions should make up no more than 10% of your content. When you do need to ask for financial support, try and find creative ways to do this.”

Making it all about your organization – You can’t be a one-trick pony or your followers will get bored and stop paying attention. Share content from varied sources – not just your own website.

Answer the question “What’s in it for me?” from your followers’ perspective. Bloomerang suggests using contests and giveaways to generate engagement – like rewarding a random follower who retweets a specific post with a prize sponsored by a local business.

Intangible “whats” like sharing behind-the-scenes shenanigans that humanize your organization, useful life hacks that align with your cause, and shout-outs to the people taking the time to engage with you are great too.

Focusing on the negative – Positive content gets a better response, so when you can, think in terms of “Look what we are able to do when we have your help!” versus “This is so horrible, we need your help!” when sharing stakeholder stories. You can move people to act or give without depressing them.

Ignoring those who engage – It’s easy to get caught up in output on social media, but you have to pay attention to the people who are taking the time to interact with you. Respond to comments and questions in a timely fashion, and if you encounter any trolls – well, Nonprofit 2.0 has some advice on that.

Not owning up to mistakes – Whether it’s spouting off at someone in the heat of the moment, or mistaking your organization’s account for your personal account, social mishaps do happen. When handled right, they don’t have to be catastrophic or career-ending. Just ask the Red Cross.

Not making use of visual resources – Nonprofits rely on pushing people’s emotional buttons to inspire their generosity, and there’s no better way to do transcend character limits and tell a compelling story than with images and videos. And you can make great videos without breaking the bank – so why wouldn’t you?   

Ignoring your blog – Along with images/videos, your blog is the best way to get in-depth information and stories out there. So don’t forget about it! You don’t need to write super long posts – 400-500 words weekly will do – but you do need to write SOMETHING, or it’s not worth having.

Forgetting hashtags – Hashtags serve an important purpose, allowing social users to categorize and easily follow the conversations they’re most interested in. And not just on Twitter. Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram all use hashtags so you should too. A few rules of thumb:

  • Search and be sure any popular hashtags haven’t been hijacked/misappropriated for something you don’t want to be associated with

  • Create your own. As Bloomerang reminds us, “Nonprofits who put on a lot of events might consider creating a unique hashtag so that attendee tweets can be tracked, responded to and retweeted easily. Individual fundraising campaigns are also great opportunities for a unique hashtag.” Use in conjunction with established hashtags for added visibility  

  • Keep hashtags to three or four at most in a single post – they lose meaning and look messy otherwise

  • Use Camel Case for clarification. It’s the difference between this: #whichishardtoread, and this: #WhichIsMuchEasier

Posting at the Wrong Times of Day – If you’re posting to your Facebook page every day at 3:00 p.m., but your followers are usually active at 10:00 p.m., your posts will be lost in seven hours’ worth of notifications. Make your posts worthwhile by scheduling them for the times when your audience is online. Followerwonk and similar tools can tell you when to tweet, and Facebook’s built-in analytics can tell you when to post to your page.


Next week, we'll have more advice from Ritu in Part 2 of this post! Sign up for instant blog updates sent right to your inbox, or check back soon!


SharmaRituHeadshot-751634-editedAbout the author: Ritu Sharma is the CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, an organization bringing social media education to nonprofits worldwide through signature one-day conference series, webinars, content and online learning. She speaks frequently around the world on a variety of topics in the nonprofit and social media spheres with a passion for effecting social change through social technologies. She writes a blog at the Huffington Post on the intersection of social media, social change and leadership.

For more great social media insights, follow @ritusharma1 on Twitter! 

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Topics: guest post, nonprofit campaigns, social media