10 Ways to Use Instagram for Nonprofit Visual Storytelling

10 Ways to Use Instagram for Nonprofit Visual Storytelling

By Julia Campbell

Instagram is growing rapidly, with 26 percent of adults now using the social media network. Yet, only a few nonprofits include Instagram in their social media strategy…and even fewer use it properly.   

Here are 10 ways that you can use Instagram for your nonprofit visual storytelling:

  1. Post eye-catching, colorful photos.

The only way to cut through the clutter and grab attention on Instagram is with great photos. Photos that feature people in small groups, action shots, interesting angles, and bright, colorful backgrounds work best and get the most engagement.

colorful photos


  1. Write great captions.

Captions are incredibly important when building a community on Instagram. Use emojis to add some flair. Put the most important words and information up front, knowing that on mobile devices the caption is cut off after three lines.

Write great captions


  1. Use hashtags strategically.

Hashtags are a great way to search for new information and new accounts to follow on Instagram, and also a perfect way to be found by new potential supporters. Use hashtags strategically but seeing what others in your industry and around your cause are using. Take a look at what your audience is posting and sharing and what hashtags are trending.

Use hashtags strategically


  1. Update your followers on online fundraising campaigns.

Tell your Instagram followers about your online fundraising campaigns! Provide frequent updates on your progress, and let them know how much still needs to be raised.

online fundraising campaigns


  1. Showcase your mission.

A photo speaks 1000 words, but a caption explaining your mission and why you do the work that you do works wonderfully on Instagram. Showcase your mission and the beneficiaries.

Showcase your mission


  1. Go behind-the-scenes with your Executive Director.

People like to connect with people on social media accounts. Give your followers a glimpse into the life and work of your Executive Director. Make them feel like they are sharing an exclusive, intimate moment.



  1. Re-post and share user-generated content.

Share photos and videos taken by your fans, followers, and supporters. They are your best ambassadors. (Always ask permission when doing this!)

share user-generated content


  1. Insert CTAs in the captions.

Insert your call to action right in the caption. Double tap/like – get more engagement. Click on the link in bio – take them to your website or online fundraising campaign page. People are more likely to take an action when asked directly.

call to action


  1. Participate in social media trends.

For example, the #2016BestNine was a popular hashtag – finding and sharing the 9 most popular photos that you posted in 2016 in a collage format. Another very popular trend is #ThrowbackThursday/#TBT where social media accounts dig into their photo archives for fun and entertaining pictures to post.

social media trends


  1. Post videos!

Video is the most popular type of content across social media platforms. Instagram video lets you post a 60 second video, which you can upload to the app or take directly within the app. Post short videos in the field, at meetings and events, and to announce a milestone or special news. You can also use Instagram live video to connect with even more followers, since there is a sense of urgency as they are not archived and you can not view them once the broadcast has ended.



What other ways do you use Instagram for visual storytelling? Share them with us in the comments section of the website or via social media.

Looking for more detailed advice about all things digital marketing, online communications, social media and nonprofits, visit us here!

Join us for Julia’s brand new live webinar Instagram for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Instagram for Raising Awareness and Money for Your Cause

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About The Author

Julia C. Campbell, Founder of J Campbell Social Marketing, consults and trains nonprofits on the best ways to use digital tools to raise money and awareness for their organizations. Her blog is consistently featured in the list of Top 150 Nonprofit Blogs in the world, and she is currently publishing a book on storytelling and social media with Charity Channel Press. She has helped dozens of nonprofits small and large with their online fundraising and marketing campaigns, raising over $1 million for social causes.  


The Majority Of Nonprofits Embrace Social Media

Weber Shandwick Social Impact Survey Finds 88 Percent of Nonprofits Experimenting with Social Media While Struggling to Demonstrate its Value to their Organizations

The vast majority of nonprofit organizations (88%) are experimenting with social media to engage key audiences, but a significant majority (79%) are uncertain of how to demonstrate social media’s value for their organizations. Only half (51%) report active use of social media. The results are contained in a new survey by Weber Shandwick’s Social Impact team conducted with KRC Research. The research was conducted among 200 nonprofit and foundation executive directors and senior communications officials in July – August 2009.

The survey findings were released on the new Weber Shandwick Social Impact blog, impact.webershandwick.com.

“We know from our work with nonprofits that most realize the potential of social media and are experimenting with it, but many are not maximizing the full opportunity,” said Paul Massey, Social Impact co-lead. “This survey validates that there is widespread experimentation, and suggests that, in the future, nonprofits that fully participate in the two-way conversations that make this medium so powerful will reap the greatest benefit.”

Social Media Contributes to Success
The survey found that the vast majority of nonprofit and foundation professionals believe their online presence helps raise awareness (92%), keeps external audiences engaged (86%) and reduces costs relative to traditional media (77%). In addition, social media is seen as successful in helping nonprofits reach broad external audiences (67%). Sixty-one percent say the rewards outweigh the risks. For these reasons, the vast majority (85%) intends to make greater use of social media in the next two years and most (78%) will require additional and deeper social media expertise to keep communicating and garnering support for their work.

Demonstrating Value of Social Media is Among Challenges
Despite predominantly positive perceptions about social media among nonprofits and foundations, several challenges were underscored in the survey. Two-thirds of the nonprofit executives surveyed (67%) believe that traditional media – including coverage in newspapers, magazines, television and radio – are more effective at supporting fundraising efforts than social media (67% vs. 22%). As important, executives in the nonprofit world are more skeptical about social media’s ability to help them connect with hard-to-reach audiences such as donors (45%), media (39%) and policy makers (31%).

“While two-thirds of nonprofit executives believe social media has a positive impact on their communications with external audiences, they are less convinced about social media’s resonance with donors, journalists and policy makers,“ said Social Impact co-lead Stephanie Bluma. “What these results imply is that organizations need to develop more targeted and sustainable digital connections with these critical yet narrower audiences. In the months ahead, digital engagement strategies will need to show value on multiple fronts from brand-building to advocacy to fundraising.”

Notably, the single area where social media is widely believed to be more impactful than traditional media is in mobilizing supporters and advocates (58%), a critically important audience for nonprofits. Yet, despite this firmly-held belief, and the additional survey finding that most nonprofit executives (84%) see the value of social media in connecting with advocates on their behalf, an equally large segment (83%) recognized that social media also makes it easier for advocates to organize independently of nonprofits – a cautionary note for nonprofit executives.

What’s Ahead for Nonprofits & Social Media
With nearly 70% of nonprofit professionals projecting their 2010 communications budgets to remain the same or decrease compared to last year, finding the resources and expertise to implement social media strategies is a widely shared challenge. Fifty-two percent of organizations concede they do not have enough staff to manage their current social media outreach and almost two-thirds (64%) report that their organizations do not have social media policies and guidelines in place for employees and board members to engage appropriately online.

Other Key Survey Findings:

* Organizations with annual operating budgets of $25 million or more are more likely to say social media positively impacts their communications with all audiences and that they are good at social media.
* Large and small nonprofits alike believe social media are least likely to assist their outreach to policymakers and donors compared to external audiences.

KRC Research, research partner to Weber Shandwick Social Impact, surveyed 200 nonprofit and foundation executive directors and communications officials via phone between July 29 and August 17, 2009. The margin of error is +/- 6.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

About KRC Research
KRC Research is a full-service market research firm that specializes in the kind of research needed for effective communications—communications that reach, engage and persuade. A unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG), KRC Research offers the quality and custom service of a small firm along with the reach of a global organization. For over 30 years, we have worked on behalf of corporations, governments, not-for-profits and the communications firms that represent them. Staffed with market research professionals from the worlds of political campaigns, consumer marketing, journalism and academia, we are flexible, practical, creative, knowledgeable and fast, combining sophisticated research tools with real-world communications experience. To learn more, please visit www.krcresearch.com.

About Weber Shandwick Social Impact
Weber Shandwick Social Impact builds insight-driven strategic communications programs that bring nonprofit and foundation missions to life, inspire advocates to take action and demonstrate impact. The team, which spans the Weber Shandwick network, includes professionals dedicated to helping private and public sector organizations amplify their voice in key issue debates, advocate on critical causes and inspire donors to give. The team combines the strength of Weber Shandwick’s public affairs, corporate and consumer practices.

The Weber Shandwick Social Impact blog is designed to help professionals navigate social media and integrate it fully into their communications strategies, as well as stay current on the latest innovations in nonprofit and foundation communications. The blog is authored by leaders of Weber Shandwick Social Impact, which includes professionals dedicated to helping private and public sector organizations amplify their voice in key issue debates, advocate on critical causes and inspire donors to give. The team combines the strengths of Weber Shandwick’s public affairs, corporate and consumer practices. To learn more, visit the Social Impact blog at impact.webershandwick.com.

About Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick is a leading global public relations agency with offices in 77 markets around the world. The firm’s success is built on its deep commitment to client service, creativity, collaboration and harnessing the power of Advocates – engaging stakeholders in new and creative ways to build brands and reputation. Weber Shandwick provides strategy and execution across practices such as consumer marketing, healthcare, technology, public affairs, corporate/financial and crisis management. Its specialized services include digital/social media, advocacy advertising, market research, and corporate responsibility. Weber Shandwick was recognized as PRWeek’s 2009 Global Agency Report Card Gold Medal Winner, named Global Agency of the Year by The Holmes Report and Large PR Firm of the Year by PR News in 2008. The firm also won the United Nations Grand Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Relations for a lifestyles educational campaign in India. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). For more information, visit http://www.webershandwick.com.

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