How Should Your Nonprofit Use Instagram?

Sharing stories is how nonprofits grow.

It’s a fundamental truth that all nonprofits have to contend with. Nonprofits who understand this and work to improve their storytelling grow awareness for their cause, make more connections, and receive more support.

Storytelling comes in many forms, and there are many platforms to choose from. If you ask most nonprofit directors they’ll say that there are too many options.

However, if you want to connect with the people who will care most about your cause, you need to make some choices and put your energy into the platforms that you believe will make the most impact, and the ones that you enjoy working with. 

Never understimate the cuteness factor!

Never understimate the cuteness factor!

Instagram is quickly becoming my favorite social media platform for cause marketing. I’ve used Instagram personally for a couple of years now, and I’ve always enjoyed the artistry and simplicity of the platform. 

More recently I’ve noticed how well the nonprofits I’ve followed present themselves on Instagram. The platform offers the ability to instantly share powerful images and videos that offer authentic, behind the scenes glimpses into the day to day activities of nonprofits. The authenticity of this type of sharing often sparks a connection far beyond what I experience with the typical nonprofit website. I see the images, I read the post and I feel like I’m there, I post comments and I begin to feel like I know these people!

  • Of the 600 million monthly users for Instagram, 66% checked into their accounts daily as of February 2017.
  • Instagram was also ranked as the second most popular social network, barely losing to Facebook, and beating out Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
  • A study of brand accounts on Instagram done in 2014 found that the companies received 58 times more engagement (measured in likes, comments and shares) per follower on Instagram than they did on Facebook and 120 times more engagement per follower than they did on Twitter.
Showing recipients of services is powerful stuff.

Showing recipients of services is powerful stuff.

And yet so few nonprofits have adopted Instagram as a go-to social media channel - only 15%* as of 2015!!

*This number is certainly higher now - I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found a more recent stat. 

With the awareness-building power that Instagram offers nonprofits, that number is much too low. 

Creating your own text-images with software opens up endless content posibilities.  

Creating your own text-images with software opens up endless content posibilities.  

If your nonprofit is considering starting an Instagram account, or stepping up your account’s game, here are a few tips to help you do so:

  1. Post Quality Images: Picture quality is the currency of Instagram, so make sure you're posting the best of the best images you have. Choose sharp, colorful, and well-composed pictures, and try to stay consistent with your filters and the themes you post about. That said, don’t let perfectionism stop you from posting. 
  2. Post Short Videos: Instagram currently allows videos of up to 60 seconds in length, which gives you some leeway but doesn't allow you to ‘overshare’. Create videos of your organization’s work on the field, and show live footage from events, volunteer days, and your work office.
  3. Share Instagram ‘Stories’: Instagram Stories looked like the photo-sharing app’s riff on Snapchat. The service allows users to mix-and-match photos and short video clips, creating montages that are endlessly customizable with on-screen notes, drawings, or emojis. Viewers must tune-in frequently to be rewarded because each story evaporates within 24-hours of posting. The tool can be a great resource for nonprofits, since you can use photos or short clips to drive home empathy for those who benefit from your services. 
  4. Use Hashtags in Every Post: Using appropriate hashtags allows Instagram users to find your content. You should be using at least 10 hashtags per post, but you can use more as long as you're using hashtags that are relevant. This means that if you use the right hashtags, people who might be interested in your cause will be able to find your post. Plus, if you have an event with many participants, you can start a hashtag to find people who Instagrammed your event and like and regram their photos, creating new following relationships.
  5. Post Consistently: Since the most successful accounts post at least once a day, that should be the benchmark that you shoot for. Instagram users are typically on the app every day, so you’ll be able to catch their attention every day with striking pictures or stories. Make sure your cause is on the top of their mind on a daily basis and when it comes time to do your ask, they’ll know you and be primed to contribute!
  6. Interact and Communicate With Your Followers: Just posting content on Instagram and letting the reaction roll in without responding to your followers is a missed opportunity. Don’t you wish more people would contact you on your website? Well, Instagram comments are a different type of contact, but they’re still people taking a moment to share their thoughts with you! Taking the time to respond in a meaningful way creates relationships that can be very valuable to your organization. 
  7. Fill Out Your Profile: Your bio information is one way that people can find you on Instagram. Make sure you have a description and a couple relevant hashtags in there so it’s clear what your nonprofit is all about.
  8. Leave a Link in Your Bio: Unfortunately Instagram doesn’t yet allow clickable links on photos or in the description area. This means that the only area you have the option of leaving a link is in the bio area of your account. What most accounts do when they share a blog post or a new video, is add this bit of text to the post description: (Link in bio), and then add the link in the bio section. This is a pretty frustrating limitation, since you’ll probably want to share numerous different links at the same time, but it’s all Instagram allows. It also means that you shouldn’t change the link too often or people viewing past posts will be sent to the wrong link. 
  9. Show Gratitude: According to Jenn Herman, “Charities rely on their supporters. They should be grateful when their supporters come through for them. And they should show the world how grateful they are....Not only is this a great way to thank your supporters, but it also serves as social proof to your audience. It helps validate what you do and what others are doing to help you.”
Showing love and gratitude for volunteers is a win win for all.

Showing love and gratitude for volunteers is a win win for all.

The key to success on Instagram is experimentation. Try different strategies out and see what works best for you!

Next Steps

  1. Download the App on your smartphone. You can’t post on a laptop, so you’ll need to create an account on your phone or tablet. 

  2. Do some searches and look for relevant hashtags to use in your posts. You’ll want to save those hashtags on an editor somewhere on your phone so you don’t have to type them out every time you post.
  3. Fill out your profile and add a profile picture.
  4. Upload a photo and play around with Instagram’s editing software. Instagram has a bunch of cool filters that automatically edit your images, or you can do edits yourself right within the app.
  5. Write a description of your photo or video. The best accounts write very conversationally on Instagram and really let followers in on what’s going on in their organization.
  6. Post your picture or video and respond to questions and comments!

Have fun! You can get really creative with your Instagram posts. Let your creativity emerge and let me know if you have any questions at