Recently, I was asked to conduct a social media marketing workshop at Planet Philanthropy (an annual conference for fundraising professionals by AFP Florida). Obviously, I was flattered, but also anxious to deliver a lecture that could bring true value to nonprofit professionals. 

After what felt like hours of agonizing over potential topics, one of my coworkers suggested the idea to discuss common social media mistakes we see our clients making all the time! Needless to say, the idea stuck and the workshop “10 Mistakes Your Organization is Making On Social Media (and How to Fix Them)” was born. 

Now I recognize that many nonprofit organizations may not be able to send their team to conferences, so I’ve rounded up an overview of the ten social media mistakes discussed at Planet Philanthropy:  

Mistake #1: Not Planning Ahead 

This sounds so obvious, but not planning ahead is easily one of the most frequent mistakes I see organizations making. I find that a lot of times, employees at nonprofits are wearing a dozen hats trying to do “all of the things”. This often leads to social media efforts being an afterthought, which turns into a cycle of posting reactive content vs. proactive content. 

Fortunately, the solution is simple – be strategic! I strongly recommend that organizations develop a high level annual social media strategy based on their organizations priorities.

Hint: A great time to do this is when you are creating your annual budget and marketing plan.

Creating an year-long strategy with clearly stated goals/KPI’s not only helps you plan ahead, but gives you a baseline to measure success against throughout the year. When you’re developing your annual social media strategy, it’s important to think about:  

  • What are your goals? Are you trying to…
    • Raise awareness for your organization? 
    • Educate others about your mission?
    • Grow your number of volunteers? 
    • Increase online donations?
  • Are there key dates to consider? 
    • When are your key gala/events scheduled for? 
    • Are there any giving days like #GivingTuesday or Great Give your organization wants to participate in? 
    • What about relevant days/weeks/months? For example: 
      • World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10
      • National Women’s Health Week from May 12-18
      • Animal Cruelty Prevention Month in April

Once you’ve ironed out your timeline and key goals, it’s much easier to plan strategic campaigns and upcoming content calendars. 

Mistake #2: Being Inconsistent 

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with mistake #1 (not planning ahead). If you don’t have a plan it can lead to inconsistent posting frequency, messaging, and imagery/video. 

To help with consistency, a good first step is to take inventory of your social channels:

  • Which social channels is your nonprofit on?
  • How often are you posting on each channel?
  • Is it too often? Too infrequent?
  • Are you posting three times in one day and then not posting for two weeks? 

It’s also important to discuss what your true bandwidth is. Remember: Scope = Time + Money. If you have plenty of time and no money, you can probably accomplish a lot on your own. If you have a lot of money and no time, you can hire someone to execute tasks and strategies for you. If you’re like most of our clients, you probably have some time and some money – which means you may opt to complete some tasks in-house while hiring outside help to support your efforts. 

When evaluating how much effort you can realistically put into social media, you may discover that you need to scale back on how many channels you utilize. Doing one or two social media channels really well is usually more valuable than throwing content up on multiple sites with no real strategy or follow through. 

Hint: I typically recommend posting 3-4x per week per channel as a starting point. If you can only focus on one channel, I’d pick Facebook for its advanced advertising capabilities and 2.32 billion monthly active users*.

If you have a little extra time I’d add Instagram to the mix. Between the visual storytelling opportunities, real time update capabilities, almost all of the same advertising options as Facebook, and 1 billion active monthly users* – Instagram is a no brainer to me.

Outside of that additional channels to consider – if time allows – includes: YouTube -1.9 billion active users*, Twitter -330 million active users*, LinkedIn -303 million active users*, Pinterest -250 million active users*, Snapchat -287 million active users*, & TikTok -500 million active users*.

One social channel I see inconsistent content being a major pitfall is on Instagram. Pretend you are someone who knows nothing about your organization. If you landed on your organizations Instagram feed, would you be able to quickly tell what the mission is based on the videos/images posted in the grid?

If you’re like a lot of our clients when they first started out, my guess is probably not. If this is an issue for you, I strongly recommend you look at Instagram accounts like @charitywater (they do an amazing job of visual storytelling), @rainforestalliance, @habitatforhumanity, @aspca, and @pencilsofpromise for inspiration.


Instagram: @charitywater

Mistake #3: Wrong Messaging Strategy 

Once you’ve taken stock of all of your organizations social channels, evaluating your messaging strategy is a great next step. Initially, you’ll probably ask: 

  • Is our social content “on brand”?
  • Does it ladder up to our goals?
  • Is the copy using a consistent tone of voice? 
  • Does the imagery we’re using visually tell our story? 

Taking it a step further you may want to clearly define who you’re talking to on social media:

  • Are you speaking to supporters? Volunteers? People using your nonprofit services? Etc. 
  • Does your audience already understand your mission? Or is there an awareness issue? 
  • Will new followers need to be educated about what you do (and why)? 
  • Are you only self promoting? Or do you have a strong content mix? 

When speaking to your audience it’s also important to: 

  • Share impact stories.
  • Credit your success to your supporters and partners.
  • Repurpose relevant content from other sources. (Exp: news articles, user generated content, etc.) 
  • Cross promote when acceptable. (Exp: tagging sponsors, creating Facebook events with co-hosts, etc.) 
  • Make the ask with clear call-to-actions. 

Ultimately, if you’re going to invest precious time (and potentially money) into your social media efforts, your messaging should be effectively sharing your story while laddering up to your goals.  

Mistake #4: Getting Hung Up On Growth 

This mistake is a doozy. Often times I’ll sit down with a nonprofit and ask them what their social media goals are. The conversation usually goes something like this: 

Me: “So what are you goals for social media?” 

Nonprofit: “To grow our social following.” 

Me: “And what do you hope to achieve by increasing your followers?” 

Nonprofit: (This answer usually varies between…) “Well we want more followers so more people will see our content.” (Or worse…) “Well our [insert leader/board member(s)] like to see follower growth to measure success.” 

While growing your social following is a great metric (and definitely a KPI I pay attention to), the truth is I’m way more concerned with engagement than how many followers an organization has. 100 loyal followers who regularly engage with your content is much more valuable than 10,000 followers who could care less. 

There are a lot of different ways to calculate your engagement rate, the tried-and-true formula I regularly use is: Engagement Rate % = Likes + Comments + Shares / Total Followers X 100 

Let’s take this post from Achieve’s Instagram announcing a new website launch for FPLManatee Lagoon as an example: 
@achieveagency Instagram - FPL Manatee Lagoon
1,735 (Total Engagements) / 417 (Total Followers At The Time) X 100 =
416% Engagement Rate 

See what I mean about engagement rate being more significant than followers?! In this case there were more actually more engagements on the post than the total number of followers. Not only was the post engaging, new audiences were reached! 

The point is, while follower growth is a great goal, try to look at the bigger picture when measuring whether your efforts are “working” or not. 

Mistake #5: Not Engaging With Your Audience 

At the risk of being cheesy, I’m going to quote Vince Vaugn’s character in the rom-com Couples Retreat, “Relationships are a two way street. Not a highway and a bike path.” 

Sometimes we get so hung up on campaign results and fundraising dollars, it’s easy to forget that the people we’re talking to on social media are real human beings (with their own goals, desires, and feelings). It’s important to make sure there is an equal exchange between you (the organization) and them (your supporters). 

I once completed a social media audit for an organization and uncovered years of Facebook messages that went unanswered (many of which were asking how to volunteer or donate to the organization). It was painful thinking about all of the missed opportunities (and the lasting impact of ignoring potential supporters who had wanted to get involved). 

Don’t fall into this classic mistake! Make sure your organization is:

  • Responding to all direct messages. 
  • Engaging with comments on your content. 
  • Liking, sharing, or commenting on your followers content. 
  • Looking for new users to engage with on platforms like Instagram & Twitter. 

Hint: Did you know you can respond to all Facebook & Instagram direct messages and comments through Business ManagerFacebook Messenger & Instagram DM

While taking the time to respond and engage with your supporters may be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of your priorities – I’d encourage you to reconsider. Not only is it good manners, you never know what opportunities could emerge. 

Mistake #6: Not Taking Advantage Of Donation Tools 

I know, I know, I know – everyone is freaking out over Facebook donations on both the pro and con side. However, being a data driven marketer, I can’t help but look at the facts:

  • Over $1 billion has been raised on Facebook in the past 4 years
  • There are zero processing fees for nonprofits 
  • Facebook donations make it easy for supporters to contribute 
  • Over $125 million in donations came in on #GivingTuesday in 2018 

Suffice it to say, that while you may prefer for supporters to donate directly on your website, you can’t afford to miss out on the fundraising opportunities Facebook (and Instagram) are bringing to the table.  

If you haven’t already, I’d strongly encourage you to setup a Facebook Donation Account for your organization. In addition to adding a donate button to your page and posts, with a Facebook Donation Account your organization can:

  • Let others fundraise on your behalf. (Think birthday fundraisers or peer-to-peer campaigns that integrate with Blackbaud TeamRaiser.)
  • Partner with brands/public figures for fundraisers. 
  • Setup matching gifts to encourage support. 
  • Accept donations while Live Streaming. 
  • Add a “donate” button to Instagram Stories.
  • And more! 

Did I mention it’s free?! 

I know change is hard, but seriously – just do it. Worse case scenario you put in zero effort and still end up with a few birthday donations you probably wouldn’t have received. 

Mistake #7: Not Utilizing Paid Spend

Let’s get real for a minute – Facebook (and Instagram) are increasingly becoming pay-to-play platforms. A few years ago, most of your fans saw your posts in their feeds. However, with the introduction of Facebook advertising and algorithm updates, this has dramatically changed. 

Hint: Often times only 1-3% of your Facebook fans will organically see your content. 

Now when I say paid spend – I’m not talking about hitting the “boost” button on your Facebook page while throwing $5 on a post with some generic targeting. I’m talking about setting up sophisticated audiences and ad campaigns through Business Manager to get your content in front of your current supporters AND new audiences. 

For all of you skeptics swearing up and down that social media advertising does not work for fundraising, check out how we helped a grassroots organization raise nearly $40,000 during one day of giving. While this campaign was multi-channel, the bulk of donations came through email and – you guessed it – social media advertising! 

I’m not advocating that social media advertising is a “cure all”, but when leveraged strategically it can be a game changer for nonprofits!  

Mistake #8: Not Taking Advantage Of Your Data 

Speaking of paid advertising…did you know that you can retarget your supporters with your existing data? 

  • If you have a Facebook Pixel installed on your website, you can run ads retargeting your website traffic. (Exp: “Users who have been on your donation page in the last 180 days…”  or “Users who have visited the ‘About Us’ section of your website in the last 30 days…” or “Anyone who has visited you site in the last 90 days…”) 
  • You can create a custom audience by uploading your segmented email and contact lists, then use that audience to retarget on social. (Exp: List of donors, volunteers, etc.) 

Hint: This usually works best for email lists of at least 1,000 people, otherwise your audience will be too small to retarget.

  • Or if you are limited on web/email data, try retargeting segments who have engaged with you on social media. (Exp: “Users who have liked an Instagram post in the past 60 days…” or “Users who have responded to a Facebook Event in the past year…” 

Taking it a step further, you can even leverage your existing data to get in front of new potential supporters. Do this by developing “lookalike” audiences based on your data. For example: 

  • “People who look like the people from your donor email list…”
  • “Men 25+ who look like people who have liked an Instagram post in the last 45 days…”
  • “Adults 45+ who look like the people who have been on the website in the last 90 days…” 

The possibilities for leveraging your data are endless! Get creative. Test-and-learn. See what works best for your organization. 

Mistake #9: Not Tracking Results 

Often times when I sit down with a new or potential client, they lament about how they haven’t seen an ROI from social media in the past. Often times this comes from a lack of trackability. 

Some ways to increase transparency into what is working (and what isn’t) include: 

  • Actively using Google Analytics.
  • Installing a Facebook Pixel on your website: 
    • Make sure conversions are trackable. You may need to get create Custom Conversions or embed code into your donation forms to accomplish this. 
  • Utilize tracking codes:
    • Bitly is a great affordable way to create tracking links.
    • UTM codes via Google Tag Manager are even better. 
  • Consider creating custom landing pages to support campaigns. 
  • When applicable try extending special promo codes to track conversions from social. 
  • Etc. 

It’s really difficult to calculate ROI if you aren’t tracking ALL results!  

Mistake #10: Not Analyzing Data/Results

This feels like a no-brainer, but sometimes when you have a million and one things going on it’s tough to prioritize slowing down and analyzing your data/campaign results. I strongly recommend doing a deep dive into your data on a monthly basis in addition to a yearly review. 

Hint: If monthly sounds daunting to you, at least try to organize quarterly reports.

By slowing down and analyzing your data you may uncover trends like: 

  • Top performing content for the week/month/year.
  • Top converting ad audience(s).
  • Most impactful Facebook fundraiser(s).
  • Most engaging types of content (videos, images, articles, etc). 

I’m a strong believer in innovation, testing-and-learning, and being open to change. By analyzing your data you have the opportunity to harness what you’ve learned from your successes (and failures) and apply those learnings to upcoming efforts! Some examples may include findings like:

  • “Sharing our #GivingTuesday goal a few weeks early increased engagement leading up to the even 20% year-over-year…”
  • “Despite the same imagery and messaging, Event Response ads on Facebook were more effective than Web Traffic ads when selling tickets to our annual gala…” 
  • “Our Instagram followers engage more frequently with images where the subject is not looking directly at the camera…” 
  • “Our Live Stream videos perform best when they are over 3 minutes long and have a clever caption attached…” 

If you take nothing else away from my observations, I hope you remember this key piece of advice: Your social media efforts should be laddering up to your goals! 

Good luck and happy fundraising! Now go out and change the world.

*Active monthly users as of April 2019 based on a study by Statista.