10 Secrets to Being Awesome on Instagram for Nonprofits

People Love Instagram! Does Your Nonprofit?

A marketing powerhouse, Instagram works for brands, companies, and nonprofits.

Instagram, a social media platform that specializes in letting user share photos and videos has become the favorite way to share among teens and young adults, beating out Facebook and Twitter. In the US, young people 18-29 years old make up half of the users on Instagram. It is estimated that Instagram users will exceed 111 million in 2019 (Statista.com).

If you are not tapping this Instagram market, you may be leaving a lot of potential on the table.

What makes Instagram different from social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter is the way people use it. Instagrammers frequently check the site, often several times a day, and engage with posts at a much higher rate than with other social networks.

In short, people who use Instagram LOVE Instagram. Moreover, if you use it right, you could tap into an engaged, active network of passionate people, ready and willing to like, comment on, and click on your posts.

However, to succeed with Instagram, you do need a clearly defined strategy, an eye-catching visual style, a staff commitment to consistent posting, and an in-depth knowledge of your target audience.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you be #InstaAwesome on Instagram.

Sign up for Instagram Business Tools

Pencils of Promise Instagram example
Pencils of Promise

If you use Instagram for your nonprofit organization and not for your personal use, you need to sign up for an Instagram for Business account. It is free, and it provides you with several useful tools that you do not get with the personal account, including analytics and a Contact button. Watch this short video and learn how to convert your account to a Business account.

If your Executive Director or other spokesperson is willing and able to set up and maintain a personal Instagram account, by all means, encourage him or her.

People prefer to connect with people on social media, much more than brands and logos. Having a personalized presence increases your reach on Instagram and creates deeper connections with donors and supporters.

TOMS shoes and its founder and social entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie have separate Instagram accounts, using different visual styles and points of view.

International nonprofit Pencils of Promise and its founder Adam Braun also have different, but complementary, Instagram accounts. 

Make Your Profile Accurate and Complete

Save the Children Instagram profile
Save the Children

Your profile is your homepage on Instagram. It is the first thing people see when they find you, so make it stand out. If you have an Instagram for Business account, you can automatically pull your contact information from your Facebook Business Page, and link the two pages.

Set up your Contact button so that Instagram users can tap on it and contact you directly, via phone call, email, or find directions (if you have a brick and mortar location). 

Compose Compelling Captions

Branden Harvey Instagram post
Branden Harvey

While an eye-catching photo or video is the heart of every Instagram post, what you write in the caption is equally essential. Remember, that you have 2,200 characters, and if you exceed three lines of text, the caption will be truncated.

Captions that tell the background story of the image or video tend to do best on Instagram. There is no definitive study on whether lengthy captions encourage or discourage engagement. It depends on what you want to say and if your audience will read a more extended caption.

Make Your Profile Pop

Save the Chimps Instagram profile picture
Save the Chimps

A great profile picture has to be one of the most important tasks when setting up an Instagram account. Use your logo, watermark, or an image that accurately represents your organization. Remember that this picture will be viewed on mobile phones, so it should be recognizable even if it is small.

You can only share one hyperlink on Instagram at a time, and that is the “link in bio.” When setting up your profile, keep your description short, and enter a link. It may be your website home page, or it may be a specific landing page for a campaign.

Change the Link in Your Bio Strategically

Pencils of Promise Linking Example
Pencils of Promise

The inability to post hyperlinks (other than a link in bio) avoids a lot of spam and helps give the platform a cleaner, more streamlined feel.

However, if you are running a fundraising campaign, you can share the particular link in your profile bio. Indicate that the link is in your bio when posting to Instagram.

Pencils of Promise often uses specific URLs in their profile and changes them depending on their fundraising campaign.

Create Your Content Strategy

Best Friends Instagram Example
Best Friends Animal Society

Creating a content strategy means having a specific goal for the photos and videos you share on Instagram. With millions of photos and videos posted daily to the network, how will you cut through the clutter and reach your audience?

Many brands on Instagram showcase their products and how people use them (for instance, Nike, Sephora). Some companies focus on workplace culture (WeWork). Others educate about trends (The Zoe Report). The most successful Instagram accounts are not a little bit of everything. They focus on a particular visual style of content and the audience they want to reach.

Some amazing nonprofit Instagram accounts to follow for content inspiration include:

  • @doctorswithoutborders consistently shows the good, the bad, and the ugly in international development work, sharing images that are often hard to look at but breathtaking in scope
  • @thetrustees account features beautiful landscapes to say that they love, celebrate, and protect the outdoors for all to enjoy
  • @stbaldricks uses a combination of photos that tell personal stories and graphics that educate and inform, with a focus on fundraising in every post
  • @unitedway tells great stories and asks provocative questions in posts that send traffic back to the website

Increase Your Followers With Hashtags

Instagram from #givingtuesday
#GivingTuesday

Instagrammers love hashtags.  Hashtags lead to new accounts to follow. How many should you use? The maximum is 30, but experts suggest five or six, although some people use all they can. It's really up to you and the image you prefer. 

Some of the  most popular hashtags on Instagram are: #love, #instagood, #me, #tbt, #cute, #follow, #followme, #photooftheday, #happy, and #tagforlikes. When choosing which hashtags to use on your particular photo, research what others use on similar posts, and what hashtags make the most sense for your nonprofit and your mission.

Pro Tip: If you do not like the look of too many hashtags in your caption, you can add them as comments, or try a neat hack to hide them. 

Use Instagram Stories

Instagram stories in heading of an account

The shiny new thing on Instagram is the Stories feature. Designed to mimic the popular app Snapchat, Instagram Stories allows for the sharing of many moments in one complete story.

Stories disappear after 24 hours and do not stay permanently on your profile. So they are perfect for in-the-moment events that need to be documented as they happen. The benefit of such content is that you can experiment and share video and photos with your followers that don’t fit the carefully cultivated visual style of your overall Instagram account.

Why should you use Instagram Stories? They show up in chronological order on the very top of your followers’ accounts when they open the app (see example above). Plus stories are a nonprofit's best friend. And you already know how to create them. Take the lessons learned from other fundraising methods and apply them here.

For a complete how-to guide on Instagram Stories, read Buffer’s excellent post on the topic.

Instagram Stories are also useful because you can embed clickable links. You can now direct your followers to a website outside the app, a feature that was previously only available to accounts paying for advertisements. 

As a bonus, Instagram has made live video available for verified accounts to use within Instagram Stories. 

Drive Donations Using Instagram Ads

My Marathon Instagram
British Heart Foundation

There are a few case studies promoted by Instagram where nonprofits have used ads with much success.

For example, the British Heart Foundation wanted to attract younger female runners to fundraise for its MyMarathon campaign. Since the Foundation’s desired demographic was really into using Instagram, they focused their advertising message there and received almost 13 percent of total sign-ups from the platform.

The benefit of running an ad on Instagram (and all social networking sites) is the ability to track the return on your investment directly. By putting a small pixel on your website, you can determine how many people came to your site from the ad and took the desired action.

Since Facebook owns Instagram, you do need a Facebook Business Page to run ads on Instagram. You also need to become familiar with Facebook’s advertising tools.

Post Consistently

Save the Chimps Instagram post
Save the Chimps

A recent study by Union Metrics found that brands post to Instagram an average of 1.5 times per day. They also found that brands posting more than twice per day did not see a decrease in engagement on their posts. It seems that on Instagram, the more posts, the merrier.

If you are creating and sharing great content designed with your followers in mind, your posts will be well-received, and you should not worry about posting too much.

If you plan to post at least once per day, make sure you look at your Instagram Insights (only available with an Instagram for Business account) to find the best time of day for your followers. That might be early, mid-day or late. Don’t guess about when your traffic happens. Check the stats.

When used thoughtfully and strategically, Instagram can be a wonderful way to reach and engage younger potential donors, volunteers, and advocates for your charitable cause.

If you have not used Instagram before, the process might seem strange and awkward. However, we have all learned from other social media platforms. You can learn Instagram too. It is likely to be worth it.