So you’re interested in reaching a nonprofit audience?

Good choice, given there are 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States alone.

6 Ways to Reach a Nonprofit Audience with Social Media

And yet, even with big numbers, it seems few people target these organizations successfully via social media. If you make yourself valuable to the nonprofit niche, there is plenty of room to attract a devoted following.

Emphasis: If you make yourself valuable to them…

Knowing your audience before you craft your message is vital. The nonprofit world seeks specific goals, faces unique problems, and speaks a language that for-profit businesses often wouldn’t.

To successfully capture the nonprofit audience, you must offer solutions that focus on their unique problems and present your message in a language that makes sense to them.

Capitalizing on Common Nonprofit Problems

According to Robert Covitz, a nonprofit is:

An organization that reinvests profits and donations into its programs, services, and personnel so as to better fulfill its mission and goals.

You can take that definition apart to see the problems that nonprofit organizations confront. Solving those problems is how you will win a nonprofit audience.

  • Making money. Like any business, nonprofits have to make more than they spend. However, any nonprofit that runs like a business will go broke. For instance, nonprofits work under strict rules that limit where they can spend their money. Most of their budget is restricted to programs and only a small part can pay for the cost of doing business.

Key Takeaway: Use social media to share tools, strategies, and tips that will help nonprofits keep track of their complicated finances, explain changes to legislation and tax codes that impact nonprofits, and so on.

  • Attracting and retaining donors. The people who benefit from a nonprofit’s services may not be able to pay for those services. They’re often too young, too old, or too poor. Nonprofit organizations need to get generous supporters to give and, even more important, keep on giving.

Key Takeaway: Use social media to provide advice on how to best attract new donors and retain past donors. Provide case studies of successful nonprofit campaigns and show nonprofits how they can use digital marketing methods to generate awareness and support.

  • Offering high-quality programs and services. Nonprofits may start out as a group of inspired volunteers who want to help people, preserve the environment, promote the arts, and so on, but those small groups rarely know exactly how to scale their efforts. They often think they need to reinvent the wheel, rather than sticking to the core principles that make nonprofits successful.

Key Takeaway: Produce and share content that helps nonprofit startups find models that work and adapt the models to their own clientele. Further along in the organization’s development, provide tools, tutorials, and tips to help them evaluate their programs’ effectiveness.

  • Recruiting and retaining great employees. There are great differences among nonprofit organizations. For example, Harvard University is a nonprofit organization, but so is the six-person agency running a food pantry in a church basement. All of them compete against for-profit businesses for the best employees and, in general, businesses pay better.

Key Takeaway: Help nonprofits build employee recognition programs and create benefits packages that Share helpful content about how to manage employees, what incentives to provide to employees, and how to generally foster a happy work environment.

  • Fulfilling their mission. Nonprofits are in business to make a difference. They don’t necessarily choose what programs to provide based on what’s easiest or most profitable. Rather, they choose their programs and services based on a specific need among specific groups of people.

Key Takeaway: Provide strategic and educational information about audiences nonprofits frequently target — minorities, people with disabilities, elderly people, low income families, and so on. Can you build online communities of these groups so nonprofits can participate and reach their audience simultaneously?

  • Letting the world know. Like a business, a nonprofit organization could be doing the greatest work in the world, but if nobody knows about it, they will serve few people, receive few donations, and go under before making a significant impact. Communications are vital to building any relationship and this principle rings true as ever in the nonprofit world.

Key Takeaway: Share helpful communication tips specifically aimed at helping nonprofits improve their writing, public speaking, networking, and social media marketing?

How Do You Speak Nonprofit?

You may have a lot to offer a nonprofit audience, but to get their attention and win their trust, you have to learn to speak the language.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of vocabulary: say “Executive Director” instead of “Chief Executive Officer,” or “programs” instead of “products.”

Other times, a for-profit concept enters the nonprofit world and the language breaks down.

Take “customer” for example. Typically, a customer looks for a good or service, finds one with the right features at the right price, pays for it, and uses it.

In the nonprofit world, the person or family using the service may not have a choice about where to get it. There may be only one agency in a geographic area that offers the service or the “features” (whether it’s offered in Spanish or in a building with an elevator) may vary so much between agencies that only one is accessible.

What’s more, the person who uses the service likely won’t be the one who pays for it.

Take Head Start pre-kindergarten classes as an example. The users are low-income families who pay nothing for the service. The funds to pay for it come from the federal government.

If you talk to a Head Start agency about improving “customer satisfaction,” they’ll have to ask what you mean: client satisfaction as measured in enrollment and surveys, or government satisfaction as measured by assessment and continued funding.

You can find a list of common for-profit terms translated into nonprofit speak at Communicate! blog.

Where Are the Nonprofits?

The judge looked at the serial bank robber with dismay…

“Why, why do you keep robbing banks?”

“Because that’s where the money is,” the robber replied.

If you want to build relationships with nonprofit organizations, you have to go where the nonprofits are.

That means getting out from behind your computer sometimes! In the nonprofit world, face to face is still the most important way of making an impression and, in the words of Woody Allen, “90% of life is showing up.”

  • In your local community, find a few organizations doing work you admire. Reach out to them via social media by retweeting or sharing their content, make yourself known at their events, ask for an informational interview with the Executive Director, and last of all, volunteer!
  • Seek out organizations that serve the nonprofit community. The Association of Fundraising Professionals is one. State associations like the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network are good too. Go to their conferences and meet their constituency: it could be the audience you’re trying to reach. Let them know where they can find you online and explain the kind of helpful nonprofit-oriented content you share.
  • Read nonprofit journals, like The Nonprofit Quarterly or more specialized publications like the Chronicle of Philanthropy. See what their readers are interested in and make those a centerpiece of your social media presence.

I also recommend becoming active in LinkedIn groups such as Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations. You can learn a lot by listening to conversations in these groups and build your own presence by genuinely getting involved. Facebook and Google+ have tons of active nonprofit groups as well where you could start building social relationships and making your helpful presence known to your target audience.

What tips and suggestions would you offer for getting the attention of nonprofits on social media? If you have a friend who markets to nonprofits, please share this post with them. They’ll thank you!