Fri, August 02 2013

Three Ways to Humanize Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Outreach

Melissa Raimondi's avatar

Content Producer, Network for Good

Filed under:   Social Media •

United Way example (Credit: United Way, Source: Peter Panepento/The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

Social media is a fantastic tool to make your presence known online. But are you using it correctly? Many nonprofits are using it to promote themselves, but often in the wrong ways, said Peter Panepento, assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, at the Washington, DC, edition of the Social Media for Nonprofits conference. He often sees nonprofits tweeting links to press releases or posting them on their Facebook page, trying to hijack their social media pages as an “official communication channel.”

“Don’t use social media to be bureaucratic,” Peter told the conference. Social media is the perfect tool for PR, but only when the emphasis is on   personal. Nonprofits should put a human face on everything and use social media to humanize your organization.” “You don’t need a big budget or to be particularly photogenic,” Peter said, you just need to be human. Here are three rules we learned from Peter on how to humanize your social media and tell a great story:

1. Think like a reporter.

Use your social media accounts to feature someone in your community that your group engages with such as donors, beneficiaries of your work, and local businesses that support you. Seek out someone that can answer the question, “Who cares? Why should this matter to me?” Remember that stories are about people, so feature the people who matter to your cause.

2. Share your #fail.

In 2010, the organization charity: water posted on Facebook for its September Campaign Live Drill. From Central African Republic, they produced a live broadcast when they attempted to drill for clean water-and failed. Peter highlighted charity: water because instead of trying to hide that something went wrong, they made it public, even writing a blog post about it. For every success, there is failure. “Followers really responded to seeing things that don’t work, you seem more genuine to your followers.”

3. Give your supporters the megaphone.

Think about how your supporters can help tell your story over social media. Invite them to talk about your work just like the United Way did for their 160th anniversary (as seen above). You can even encourage volunteers to be reporters by rewarding them: retweet them, call them out, and thank them. If you bake it into the volunteer experience, Peter said, “you’ll get more genuine language from people than you could otherwise compose.”

For better social media engagement, follow these tips from Peter to humanize your organization. “If you can show the work that you’re doing and the people you’re serving, even if it’s not in a mud pit somewhere in Alaska but at your desk, that can be really helpful.”

The Social Media for Nonprofits conference is coming to Austin, TX on August 13, 2013. Check out the conference agenda, and follow SM4Nonprofits on Facebook for the latest updates. Heading to Austin? Use our “N4G” discount code to save $20.


  • Comment: (4)   


Hi Melissa,

Thanks for your post!

I think that, adhering to the points 1, 2 and 3, one would do a much better job at “putting a human face” on the social media profile of a non-profit - and this is certainly much better than just reposting or linking to press releases etc. However, there is still the risk that the social media profile appears to be somewhat static. Maybe a 4th point to consider would how to *engage* users on the non-profit’s social media platform itself - e.g. by actively eliciting and using user-generated feedback and creative contributions? E.g. posting relevant user videos and photos, engaging the audience in the creative process behind the next national ad campaign etc.

Thanks again,

Posted by Christian  on  08/04  at  04:28 AM

Great tips! By the way, it looks like it was the YMCA of Greater New York, not the United Way, that ran the campaign at the top of the page.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/05  at  10:26 AM

Thanks for such a brief and helpful article. Nowadays the range of social media has increased to reach out the world.Social media is necessary for any company to promote its brand or services. The company includes Social media integration in their marketing strategy as it is has the range to reach out every people in world.

Thanks alot Melissa…!!!

Posted by Sarah Ingram  on  08/06  at  10:18 AM

Good advice, however, I believe there’s one missing, Melissa. Many nonprofits have chosen NOT to follow most of their followers, especially on Twitter. Always focusing on the organization and its mission worked in traditional PR, but today engagement is crucial.

I believe it’s as important to have conversations with individuals and retweet or repost what’s important to them (that has some connection to the mission). It’s not just about volunteers and “insiders.” You can’t repost if you don’t follow followers.

This lack of engagement and reciprocity can be perceived as selfish social media behavior. And, that’s not a positive brand impression.

Posted by Elaine Fogel  on  08/29  at  12:33 PM

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