Social Media Marketing Ideas for Nonprofits

Text to Give Campaign

Example of  targeted “text-to-give” social post shared to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers on Thanksgiving.

Today I’d like to share a few of the ways social media has helped to significantly increase online donations for nonprofits – more specifically, my long-time client San Diego Rescue Mission that increased online donations by more than 32% last year.

First, I’d like to clarify that social media marketing itself is not a stand-alone fundraising channel for the Mission. It is just one of the mainly pieces of the overall fundraising efforts. Although more people are going online to donate, it is a result of traditional offline awareness as well. For example, Beck Ellman Heald helps facilitate some wonderful PR opportunities that keep the Mission in the public spotlight, and Brewer Direct is responsible for the direct mail campaigns.  Strategic online marketing provides longevity and further reach to each of these traditional avenues, as well as exposes the messaging to a new and wider audience.

In addition, the web site design plays a critical role in closing the loop (capturing additional visitor data and encouraging the completion of the online donation transaction).  Whether your nonprofit is running a direct mail campaign, mobile, social, or other, your web site is still the center piece. It’s the place potential donors complete their final research, explore further information about the services you provide (where their donation will go), and make the final choice of whether or not to donate to your organization.  Ensuring your web site is converting visitors to donors is a critical step before expanding your online marketing efforts or jumping further into social media marketing. For the San Diego Rescue Mission, the more traffic we get to the web site, the more online donations we see each year, and we can directly calculate that.

Facebook posts showing real faces about the people donors are helping (rather than stock photos) continue to generate the most engagement

Facebook posts showing real faces about the people donors are helping (rather than stock photos) continue to generate the most engagement

When you can begin calculating the dollar amount (on average) each visit to your web site generates, it helps fuel more aggressive approaches to online marketing.

Here are few of the ways San Diego Rescue Mission is using social media to help with online fundraising.


Our Facebook Fans continue to be the most engaged audience and contribute to the most direct traffic to the web site of any of the social networks. Followers engage most with posts thanking specific donors and organizations, along with those showing real faces, stories of homeless who need help and success stories of the homeless who’ve been helped through the programs at San Diego Rescue Mission.  In addition to strategic posts, targeted Facebook ads are used to give more exposure to various campaigns, as well as bring attention to Planned Giving options.


While the San Diego Rescue Mission’s LinkedIN account currently doesn’t  have the growth or engagement our Facebook page has, we’ve found the biggest engagement when posting “Thank yous” (with a photo of course!) to corporate sponsors.

Search Engine Marketing

Car donation, Thrift stores, and planned giving services continue to be the most highly competitive on paid search. Therefore more effort is put into organic optimization.

Car donation, Thrift stores, and planned giving services continue to be the most highly competitive on paid search. Therefore more effort is put into organic optimization strategies.

I’m using a combination of search engine optimization and pay-per-click to ensure our San Diego Car Donation and San Diego Thrift Store locations pages show up in the research path of potential donors and shoppers. We also use Google Grants, to purchase keywords related to our overnight shelters, without acquiring additional costs. Everything is tracked by a combination of Google Analytics and Mongoose Metrics – which allows us to track the online source (whether it was organic or a result of a paid ad) for  incoming phone calls. Currently, our Google+ Page falls under the Search Engine Marketing Strategy, and has proved especially beneficial to our Car Donation and Thrift Store campaigns. Strategic posts are  made several times per week, along with continued optimization of  landing pages, to ensure ongoing donations and visits to these areas of the site.


ens at Sleepless San Diego

San Diego Rescue Mission’s Instagram account started to gain momentum during this year’s Sleepless San Diego event, that attracted a younger donor group, including youth groups and teens. Hundreds of attendees posted photos live from the event with hashtags related to #SleeplessSanDiego

We just recently started using Instagram, and although I don’t believe it is directly translating to significant donations yet, I believe this is an important audience to start a connection with. It is the younger audience, that responds more to the smaller donation amount requests, but one day may turn into bigger donors. Bottom line, I don’t believe this social network is going away anytime soon, and its important to start building a presence here.  Another note, I’ve used Instagram to test photos, before we use them in bigger email campaigns. For example one photo that I thought was especially powerful didn’t gain the response I’d expected, so we ended up using another photo that gained more reaction (likes) before using it in a larger scale campaign.


In addition to working with our web designer to make the current web site more mobile friendly, last year, we started working with mGood to develop a text-to-give campaign. We’ve targeted this campaign to younger donors, primarily on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  We are developing a series of eye-catching graphics to post to social media at specific times, such as the example above that was posted on Thanksgiving, to warrant the most

Example of tweets during #SanDiegoRain storm

Example of tweets during #SanDiegoRain storm

response.  Another strategty is to use local trending hashtags at the right time, for example during the recent San Diego Rain storms, an active hashtag was #SanDiegoRain with people complaining about how the rain was messing up their hair or their evening communte. We joined the conversation with calls to action about how people can help homeless families get out of the cold rain, and into a night of shelter at the Mission.

In addition to the above online marketing activities, we also find success with our CEO Blog, which gives donors an insight into ongoing happenings and stories at the Mission, as well as thoughts from the CEO. Email Marketing is still a powerful tool to encourage repeat donors, and the strategic campaigns are revised and translated to social media sharing to give more logentivey and reach. We’ve also just began expanding our YouTube channel through posting interviews about the lives of homeless teens staying at the Misison,  as well as ones like this infographic video, created last week, visually showing the rising numbers of homeless in San Diego and how donors can help. We hope it continues to get shared and create discussion and awareness around the issues that cause homelessness in the first place

As new trends, tools and tracking capabilities continue to become available, opportunities for nonprofits to find success in social media fundraising will too. Do you have a social media fundraising example that has worked well for your nonprofit? I’d like to hear about it. Please post your comments/questions below.


Holly Berkley, San Diego Online Marketing Consultant
Holly Berkley is an author, educator, speaker and professional Internet Marketing Consultant focused on helping all size businesses increase online sales, strengthen their overall brand, and dramatically boost web site traffic through proven online marketing concepts. Berkley’s newest book is “The Social Media Advantage – An Essential Handbook for Small Business” Learn about her latest books and marketing services at


2 thoughts on “Social Media Marketing Ideas for Nonprofits

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