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11 Nonprofits That Excel at Social Media

July 30, 2012

Large nonprofits usually have the expertise and resources necessary to launch and maintain successful online communications and fundraising campaigns. They’ve been able to hire some of the most well-trained and experienced staff, consultants, and designers that work in the nonprofit sector. Small to medium-sized nonprofits with small to medium-sized marketing and communications budgets may not have the resources that many of the larger nonprofits do, but that doesn’t mean your online communications campaigns can’t be as good.

Your nonprofit can learn a lot from the 11 (mostly large) nonprofits listed below by simply following, liking, and subscribing to their e-newsletter, blog, Facebook Page, Twitter, YouTube Channel, etc. and then studying and duplicating their methods. How I chose the nonprofits is that I have a basic set of criteria that I use as a litmus test when I audit nonprofits and their social media campaigns. A small selection of that criteria is as follows:

  • Consistent use of a visually compelling square avatar across all social networks
  • Custom-designed Twitter and YouTube Channel backgrounds
  • Consistent publication of fresh content to a blog or website
  • Their website, e-newsletter, and blog all include links to their social networks
  • Their blog has an e-mail newsletter subscribe option and a “Donate Now” button
  • They consistently get retweeted, repinned, and reblogged and have an active fan base on Facebook and Google+
  • They have found the right balance of what kind of content to post on their social networks and how often
  • They are early adopters and boldly pioneer the Social Web

That said, none of the nonprofits listed below met all the criteria (all are at 90% or more).  There’s always room for improvement since social media best practices change as often as the tools themselves. Many social media best practices that were tried and true just 6-12 months ago no longer apply. A good social media manager understands this and evolves with their communities and quickly adapts as the tools themselves change – and it’s clear when you study the nonprofits below that their social media managers not only understand this, but embrace it.

Finally, it was very tough to narrow it down to just eleven nonprofits. A hundred nonprofits could have easily made the list, but I’ll tell you this: If I couldn’t find links to their social networking communities on their website’s homepage, then the nonprofit wasn’t even considered. That’s a very basic must-have criteria in my book, literallyHint, hint.

1. AIDS Healthcare Foundation :: aidshealth.org


2. Amnesty International :: amnestyusa.org


3. CARE :: care.org


4.Field Museum :: fieldmuseum.org


5. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) :: glaad.org


6. London Symphony Orchestra :: lso.co.uk


7. Media Matters :: mediamatters.org


8. Nature Conservancy :: nature.org


9. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) :: peta.org


10. Project Aware :: projectaware.org


11. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) :: unicef.org


Related Links:

Social Media and Mobile Technology Webinar for Nonprofits
Social Media for Social Good: A 268-Page How-To Guide for Nonprofits

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. caityrosey permalink
    July 30, 2012 5:23 am

    Great tip about the pace of change in social communication and Web design.

  2. July 30, 2012 9:52 am

    Thanks for including The Field Museum!
    We’re learning every day what works and what doesn’t on our social media sites, but we love connecting with our visitors in new ways, and having conversations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It’s a great time to be a nonprofit on the digital edge, and we really appreciate your kind assessment!

  3. July 30, 2012 6:01 pm

    Hey heather. In your shortlist of criteria im curious why you think background images are important and no mention of engaging with supporters/followers/allies.

    (I realize it’s just a selection of your fuller criteria though)

    Re channel backgrounds – curious, are you seeing a significant enough number of people are visiting twitter pages via web or being influenced by YT/tw background over content / profile pic that it’s worth a nonproft’s focus or attention?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      August 1, 2012 10:27 am

      Engaging is on my list, though it’s not my mantra in social media. As far as backgrounds, its really important to make a strong first impression online. Backgrounds (or not) are clear indicators of how well the social media manager understands the tool set and has image/graphic experience. And a profile pic? Essential. I have been drilling that one for years. Greenpeace has a good one though not consistently used with all chapters.

      • August 1, 2012 11:11 am

        re engaging — glad it’s somewhere on your list! i’d encourage you to consider making it part of your matra though — Greenpeace Brasil has more than 500k followers on twitter (largest within Greenpeace universe) and argues that engagement has been essential to their growth; just one data point, of course, but then again haven’t seen many successful social presences that are purely broadcast.
        http://www.mobilisationlab.org/social-media-engagement-ftw-lessons-from-greenpeace-brasils-growth/

        re backgrounds — I’d be curious if you have any data supporting the importance of backgrounds toward growth, retention, engagement, or action, but my experience is that it plays a superficial role at best. Happy to be proven otherwise!

        you are right, the Greenpeace profile pics accounts are indeed inconsistent — it’s valuable real estate that we change regularly to support the changing global campaigns. No way to prove this but ideally it keeps us fresh in people’s feeds rather than being an icon that gets tuned out over time

        keep the great posts coming and see you along the way!

      • nonprofitorgs permalink
        August 1, 2012 11:35 am

        No studies on it, but Greenpeace International has a nice background that chapters could download and use:

        http://www.youtube.com/user/greenpeacevideo

        Takes 10 seconds… why not? It’s good visual branding. I am big believer in visual branding on the Social Web now that so few actually read. 🙂

        I get engaging, but there is a line. I have seen nonprofits fully adopt engaging and think that means expressing every little thought… which makes for very boring tweets and status updates… and a pretty ineffective social media strategy.

  4. Leos permalink
    July 31, 2012 1:00 am

    And Save the Children?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      August 1, 2012 10:21 am

      You can’t fit them all, and I covered them many times before. 🙂

  5. July 31, 2012 1:58 am

    Thank you for listing Project AWARE in this great post! We are proud to be listed amongst these fantastic non-profits. We are very grateful for all the tips and advice you provide to charities big and small. Your support and expertise definitely contributes to our Social Media success as we very often follow your tips and read with interest the success stories from other non-profits … Well done all and thank you 🙂

  6. July 31, 2012 7:30 am

    Great roundup! One question or point – most of these are the biggest nonprofits with the biggest audiences. Isn’t it sometimes just a matter of having a socially networked audience who’s going to post content whether it’s well networked or not – chicken or the egg?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      August 1, 2012 10:21 am

      I always say copy the big nonprofits. Not sure if you read the introduction? 🙂

  7. July 31, 2012 7:47 am

    Thanks for including The Nature Conservancy 🙂 Social media at the Conservancy is a team sport, so have to give a shout out to our great social media contributors.

  8. July 31, 2012 4:10 pm

    I hope that WAAW Foundation will get a mention soon. Will need to as suggested to follow these companies and see how they do it.

  9. August 1, 2012 10:14 am

    This is great! Thank you for including Project AWARE! We’re a global org that’s very small in staff, but big in reach with passionate volunteers and supporters around the world. Social media is critical to our mission and outreach to protect the ocean planet. I hope we can continue to excel along with the likes of many of these other amazing orgs.

  10. nsa permalink
    August 1, 2012 11:50 am

    If anyone is willing to share any agencies that helped developed these beautiful assets, many would be grateful.

  11. August 2, 2012 5:46 am

    Thank you so much for creating this. It is ncredibly helpful & inspiring.

  12. August 2, 2012 10:54 am

    Very thoughtful, review. I’m wondering when Social Media will move from being a communication medium to helping organizations like Project AWARE, AIDS Healthcare and Nature Conservancy with other goals…like fund-raising.

    Heather, any thoughts on the new breed of solutions like PoundDonate.com that let Nonprofits actually raise money through Twitter, for example? Seem like the next frontier in social media, social fund-raising…thoughts?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      August 2, 2012 11:07 am

      If a nonprofits know what they doing on social media… strategically, they are definitely raising money via social media, but not through direct asks. It;s doesn’t work that way. 🙂

  13. August 2, 2012 1:29 pm

    Thank you for including AIDS Healthcare Foundation on this prestigious list!

  14. JR Fields permalink
    August 3, 2012 9:36 am

    Great list – I am a huge fan of Cuentame which deals with Latino issue of all kinds. They are kings of Social Media and have more followers on Facebook and Twitter than most on this list. What I love most about them is that they push out original content 2 or 3 times a week but they are also unafraid to link to other material on issues they cover.

  15. August 4, 2012 4:49 am

    Yes! Learning by example (either positive or negative example) can be free and highly effective. Your article is truly useful with great visuals. To your list I would add the critical importance of consistent voice in alignment with the organization’s values and branding. Also I note that while large organizations may have more resources available to actualize their social media game plan, it is common for smaller start-ups that are ‘tech creatives’ to be bolder early adapters.

  16. August 8, 2012 12:46 pm

    Reblogged this on ThatPoliticalThing.com and commented:
    Fantastic article and a great blog all around.

  17. March 11, 2013 2:26 am

    Thanks for sharing this helpful things….Really amazing…

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