Most nonprofits aren’t doing hashtags right.

How often have you come across a post on Instagram or Twitter that’s got nonprofit hashtags spammed to the max (the max on Instagram is 30, and Twitter only allows 280 characters)?

Take this example:

Nonprofit Hashtag Example

Do you think all those hashtags are worth it?

Not for 17 likes.

If you think more hashtags are better, take a look at this research:

TrackMaven found that engagement decreases after 11 hashtags are used on Instagram, and engagement decreases after just one hashtag on Twitter.

So, if using more hashtags is actually detrimental to post engagement, are they even worth it?

Great question.

There’s also a lot of research that shows how using hashtags can have a very positive effect for your organization. Here are some quick stats

  • Tweets with hashtags (no more than two) increase engagement by 200% and are 55% more likely to be retweeted.
  • Facebook posts with one or two hashtags see higher engagement.
  • Using hashtags on Instagram (remember, no more than 11) increases engagement overall by 12.6%.
  • Using hashtags can even increase your visibility in Google search results if someone searches for that hashtag. In the example below, Google shows the latest tweets using #nptech (notice we come up).

Nonprofit Hashtags

If done right, hashtags can drastically boost engagement in your social media accounts.

In fact, since Wild Apricot cracked down on which hashtags we use in our Twitter account, we’ve seen a 200% increase in organic impressions (just this month our tweets earned over 115,000 organic impressions).

I’ve also found some great examples of nonprofits who’ve used hashtags to drastically increase followers, donations, and spread awareness.

The best part is figuring out what hashtags to use and how to use them is actually quite simple.

In this post I’m going to show you some of the most effective uses of hashtag campaigns I’ve seen, and how to find the best hashtags for your audience.

The 3 Most Effective Hashtag Uses (I’ve ever seen!)

1) How to Get More Followers from Hashtags

Have you ever conducted a hashtag giveaway?

The idea is to give something away to someone in return for following your account and sharing a specific hashtag you created.

Some organizations have seen amazing success with this type of strategy.

Take this example:

Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade organization, wanted to increase followers to its Twitter and Instagram accounts, so they decided to conduct a hashtag giveaway.

nonprofit hashtag cruisesmile

For 31 days, anyone who posted a selfie and used the hashtags #CruiseSmile and #Sweepstakes was automatically entered into a weekly draw for a cruise (locations included Tahiti, Alaska, and Italy).

In the end, 83,000 people entered the giveaway and followed them on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The best part was that creating the campaign was relatively easy. The only expense CLIA had was the cruise they gave away.

So, say you want to increase your followers with a hashtag giveaway too.

While you may not be able to give away a cruise, what about a gift basket? A free event ticket? Or even a 1-year membership?

2) How to Get More Donations from Hashtags

Most of the hashtag advice I see about donations goes like this:

“Include #donate in your posts and you’ll inspire someone to donate!”

I’ve never seen that work to collect a single dollar.

What I have seen work is using hashtag power to collect donations through a community initiative.

That may sound a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.

Here’s a great example.

FEED, an organization that provides meals to American families, asked their supporters to collect donations from their friends by hosting dinner parties.

To help their supporters out, they even supplied a toolkit with paper placemats, name cards, and hunger facts to those who wanted them.

All they asked in return was that they used #FEEDsupper when they shared their images of their dinners.

Nonprofit Hashtag Example FEED

It was a very simple idea.

Supporters invite their friends over for dinner. They collect donations. Then they post their photos online with #FEEDsupper.

Here’s what happened.

Within a month, thousands of people were hosting dinner parties across the nation (even Martha Stewart jumped on the trend) and spreading word about #FEEDsupper.

By the end of the campaign, FEED raised enough money to provide over 2,000,000 meals for children and families in need.

That’s amazing.

The initiative was such a success, FEED has turned it into a year-wide campaign.

If you’d like to get more donations using hashtag power, consider inspiring your supporters to donate through a community initiative, like a dinner, run, or a clean-up, and then share their experience with their friends using a hashtag you’ve created.

3) How to Inspire a Movement with Hashtags

If your nonprofit’s goals aren’t to get more followers, or donations, but instead to inspire a local, national, or even global movement, then your hashtag approach should be completely different.

Consider Truth, an organization bent on ending cigarette smoking.

In 2014, they created the hashtag campaign #FinishIt to spread awareness of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on pets.

They didn’t aim to get more followers or donors, but simply to change youth’s attitudes towards smoking.

They also didn’t rely on hashtag power alone.

They created a short, educational video explaining the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke on pets while showing popular cat and dog videos in the background.

Nonprofit Hashtag Case Study FinishIt

While the main message was conveyed through the video, all the hashtag did was give people an easy way to share the video and talk about its message.

The results were incredible.

Besides the video being viewed nearly three million times, The Department of Health, Behavior and Society, along with a number of other partners conducted “a probability-based, nationally representative cohort designed to evaluate the relationship between awareness of truth media messages and changes in targeted attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors over time.”

What they found was that the Truth #FinishIt hashtag campaign resulted in a significant increase in anti-tobacco attitudes and reduced intentions to smoke over time among 15-21 year olds.

Unfortunately, not every nonprofit has access to a nationally conducted study on the effectiveness of their hashtag campaigns.

But if you want to measure how effective your hashtag is in spreading awareness, there’s a very easy way to do so.

There’s a free tool called Tweet Binder that can show you how many times any hashtag was tweeted within the last 30 days.

Tweet Binder hashtag tool

When creating your hashtag, just remember to keep it short, simple, memorable, and try your best to tap into a feeling of personal connection with your supporters.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a hashtag to spark a movement, just think of these well-known examples:

  • #MeToo
  • #TakeAKnee
  • #YesAllWomen
  • #BringBackOurGirls
  • #LoveWins

Bonus) It’s a Long Shot, but Here’s How to Jump on a Trend

Sometimes the stars and moon align and a hashtag begins trending that perfectly relates to your organization.

Once that happens, there’s a very short window of time to get creative and put together a campaign.

Here’s a great example of that happening.

Do you remember the viral campaign by Water is Life?

In 2012 when #FirstWorldProblems (“a slang term used to refer to issues in First World nations that are complained about only because of the absence of more pressing concerns”) began trending on social media, Water is Life created a number of videos parodying the hashtag to real concerns of people in other parts of the world.

Nonprofit Hashtags Water is Life

The campaign ended in a huge success for the organization.

More than 21 million people watched the videos on Facebook, and more than 7 million on YouTube, not to mention the countless retweets, likes, and comments their posts generated.

While many have tried to go viral and failed, if you keep your eye out on trending hashtags, you might just get lucky.

How to Find the Best Hashtags to Boost Your Posts

If you’re just looking for a general boost to your likes, shares, and followers, using popular hashtags can definitely give you that (just don’t expect to go viral).

If you need help finding relevant hashtags for your nonprofit’s audience, here are some ideas to get started:

  • Start by typing #foundation, #charity, #nonprofit, #association, #club, #nfp, or whatever type of organization you run into the search bar of the social platform you’re using to get suggestions.
    Nonprofit Hashtag
  • Look at hashtags included in the most popular posts, or posts from other organizations you follow and join the conversation by including those tags in your own posts.
  • Browse our list of all the nonprofit hashtags and their popularity.
  • Include hashtags as part of your message. For example, “You can #donate by clicking the link.” Here are a few more hashtags that work well as part of a message: #joinnow, #membershipspecial, #renewtoday, #volunteer, and #giveback
  • Get creative with customized hashtags for an event or campaign name (like #[OUR]Gala2017). This is an easy way to boost attendance and participation, especially if used consistently leading up to the event.
  • If your organization has multiple regional offices or branches, make sure everyone in each area uses the shared tag alongside the parent organization’s name, and the regional office name, like the @USO’s national campaign #BeTheForce is used by all of their regional offices (@USOofNC for example). This also makes is very easy to find all your organization’s posts (simply click on the hashtag)
  • If you’re a local community, you can create something like #[yourcity], combined with some local or regional popular tags (like #Idahome for Idaho or #keepportlandwierd in Portland, Oregon) are always a good choices to reach locals in your organization’s area

Looking for even more followers? Join a global conversation by using some of the most popular hashtag trends on Twitter and Instagram like:

  • #GivingTuesday is a global day for giving back to various causes and falls on Tues, November 28, 2017. Organizations often have campaigns tied to this day and can post updates to campaign activities and goals using this tag
  • #MCM (man crush Monday) and #WCW (woman crush Wednesday) are great tags for posts about inspiring men and women who volunteer with, support, or inspire your organization.
  • #transformationtuesday is intended to show change over time, usually with two pictures side by side. Get creative with this one to show how your organization has grown, project before-and-afters, or progress on your annual goals!
  • #tbt (throwback Thursday) and #fbf (flashback Friday) are opportunities to post any sort of nostalgic content from last week, last year, or last century.
  • Depending on the type of nonprofit you have, there are likely specific hashtags to your niche as well, like #communitytheatre or #adoptionrocks

Using Instagram’s search feature, browsing your feed, and mining for hashtags by just looking through content that is relevant to your membership and your organization are all great tips to keep your hashtag cloud fresh!

All the best with using hashtags!

This article on nonprofit hashtag strategy originally appeared on the Wild Apricot blog.