This is the eighth post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!
Related Webinar: Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits
Related Certificate Program: Certificate in Social Media Marketing & Fundraising
With two billion active monthly users, Instagram is a very powerful social network used by nonprofits worldwide. According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, of the 89% of nonprofits worldwide that use social media in their digital marketing and fundraising strategy, 75% of those use Instagram.
That said, Instagram reach and engagement are at an all-time low and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for nonprofits to get exposure in the Instagram Feed. According to SocialInsider, Instagram Reels have the highest engagement at 1.95% – compared to .9% for carousel posts and .62% for single photo posts. Study and test the best practices below to ensure your nonprofit is utilizing Instagram effectively.
1) Maximize your Instagram Profile Picture and Bio.
Making a positive first impression is crucial to securing new followers on Instagram. First, make sure that your nonprofit uses a well-designed, visually compelling profile picture. In most cases, your profile picture should not include text as it would be too small to read in the Instagram feed on a smartphone. For examples of text-free profile pictures, see the Nature Conservancy and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture:
Second, write a compelling Instagram bio. You are limited to 150 characters, so get straight to the point, draw attention to your bio with emojis and campaign hashtags, and include a call-to-call to action. For example, Greenpeace Canada and No Kid Hungry:
Account Category & Contact Information
Finally, “add the category of “Nonprofit organization” or “Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) under Edit Profile > Category. You can also add contact information which will add a “Contact” button, a “Call” button, or an “Email” button to your profile depending upon which contact information you provide. If you are a location-based nonprofit, such as a museum or zoo, then also add your address. Please note that to add the category and contact information, you need to upgrade to a business/professional account as discussed in #2 below.
Story Highlight Covers
Third, if your nonprofit regularly shares stories on Instagram, make a strong first impression by creating custom Highlight covers using a graphic design tool or a mobile app. For example, Oceana and the Dogs Trust:
In addition, apply to get verified. If approved, a blue verification badge will be added next to your nonprofit’s name on Instagram. This adds credibility to your brand and likely improves your results in organic reach. The application process is easy, but approval is uncertain. Despite Nonprofit Tech for Good being active on Instagram for nearly 10 years and having over 70,000 followers, our application for verification is repeatedly denied. That said, Amnesty International is an example of a verified account:
2) Ensure that your Instagram account is a Business Account.
To get access to Insights, to post ads, set up a Shop, use Instagram Fundraising Tools, and set up Subscriptions, your nonprofit must have an Instagram Business Account. To upgrade to a professional/business account, go to your Instagram profile in the mobile app and select Settings > Account > Switch to professional account. During the process, you will be prompted to connect your Instagram account to your nonprofit’s Facebook Page account. It’s worth noting that you must be an admin of your Facebook Page to take this action. Once you have connected the two, you officially have a business account.
3) Post 2-5 times weekly to your Instagram.
The most often cited best practice is to post to Instagram once to three times daily, but for the majority of nonprofits that is a ridiculous benchmark. Posting that often may make sense for nonprofits with a large following, a vast array of visual content, and a significant budget for advertising, and if that describes your nonprofit, then go for it.
That said, most nonprofits should aim to post consistently 2-5 times a week. Like Facebook, an increasingly stingy algorithm on Instagram makes posting daily a waste of time for small and medium-sized nonprofits unless they invest in advertising. As a reminder, according to SocialInsider, Instagram Reels have the highest engagement at 1.95% – compared to .9% for carousel posts and .62% for single photo posts. Posting every day or multiple times a day is a lot of effort to reach a tiny fraction of your followers.
Post Eye-Catching Photos
On Instagram, first and foremost, do your best to post eye-catching images and carousels of images of your nonprofit’s mission and programs in action. Your photos do not necessarily need to be beautiful or awe-inspiring, but they do need to contribute to your organization’s story.
Keep in mind that organic reach for photos is at an all-time low, so if your nonprofit lacks in visually-compelling photography, you can also curate and source on Instagram photos that speak to your mission and programs.
It’s worth noting that a good photo with a well-written caption can outperform a boring Instagram Reel any day of the week, so despite Meta’s very public push to steer brands and individuals towards posting more reels, sharing photos on Instagram is still a best practice and the preference of most your followers.
Share Reels (if you have the time)
Instagram Reels are videos uploaded to Instagram that are displayed on smartphones as long-form videos (1080 pixels x 1920 pixels). Reels come with a special set of in-app creation and editing tools and can be up to 15 minutes in length, but Instagram states clearly that reels need to be under 90 seconds to be prioritized in the feed.
That said, Instagram really, really wants brands to post reels (in an attempt to compete with TikTok) and in reward for posting reels, Instagram provides the highest reach and engagement for reels – at least for now. As mentioned earlier, engagement for reels is currently estimated to be 1.95%, but as more brands post reels, that engagement rate will likely drop as the feed becomes overrun with too many reels.
If your nonprofit has 3-10 hours per week to create reels, then experiment with reels (and TikToks), but know that not all nonprofit missions and programs translate into compelling reels content. Youth-oriented activism, animal welfare, women’s rights, environmental activism, and arts and culture are natural fits for reels content, but even then reels need to be produced and edited in a way that can capture your follower’s attention and engagement. Creating video content has always been a challenge for most nonprofits, and even though the best reels are “authentic” and not professionally produced, creating reels content still requires a lot of creativity, time, and staff that are skilled in using smartphone video apps and comfortable on camera. For examples of nonprofits successfully using reels, see the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
If your nonprofit does not have 3-10 hours a week to create reels, then no worries. Being an early adopter of a new social media tool has its benefits, but if your nonprofit does not have the time to invest in reels (and TikToks), it’s OK. A new social media tool is always on the horizon, and the next one may be less time-consuming and higher in return on investment (ROI).
Schedule Posts Using Meta Business Suite
Meta is putting a lot of effort into building their Meta Business Suite platform and Meta has a pattern of rewarding early adopters. Meta prefers that admins use Meta Business Suite to post to Instagram rather than using third-party apps, such as Buffer and HootSuite. We don’t have exact data, but Meta has made it clear that posts from third-party apps get less exposure in the news feed.
4) Prioritize writing effective captions with a call-to-action.
In the early days of Instagram, writing short captions (less than 100 characters) was the predominant best practice. People joined the social network primarily for the visual experience, not to read.
Today, Instagram users have evolved and they are willing to read long captions – even portions of articles or blog posts copied and pasted directly into Instagram. The character limit for an Instagram post is 2,200 and while posting lengthy captions in every, or even most posts, is not the recommendation, writing captions that are multiple sentences that strategically use hashtags and emojis is the current best practice.
Use 3-5 Hashtags and Emojis in Captions
In Instagram’s early days, using large numbers of hashtags in Instagram captions was acceptable and even considered a best practice. The idea was that if your nonprofit used 10, 20, or even 30 hashtags in each caption, your nonprofit would reach potential new followers. Today, using that many hashtags is considered hashtag spamming and it hurts Instagram engagement.
According to Socialinsider, the highest average engagement rate (3.4%) is generated by posts with 3-5 hashtags. As a best practice, stay away from using general hashtags, such as #green and #happy, and instead narrow your focus on hashtags relevant specific to your nonprofit, such as causes (#FoodInsecurity), special campaigns (#StandforOceans), and your location (#Tucson).
Also important to know is that using emojis in Instagram captions can boost your engagement by 48%. Emojis are a colorful way to draw attention to your message ❤️ 🧡 💚 and calls-to-action 💥. If your nonprofit posts to Instagram using Meta Business Suite on desktop, Emojipedia.org is a must-bookmark!
Tag Partners and Corporate Sponsors
Partners and corporate sponsors are notified when they are tagged in your posts. It’s a simple way to express appreciation for partnership and an excellent means to steward corporate sponsors.
5) Embrace the “Link in Bio” strategy and “Link” Stickers in Stories.
Capturing website traffic from Instagram has always been a challenge due to the fact that you can not include hyperlinks in captions. The easiest way to send traffic to your website from Instagram is to purchase ads, but according to Web FX the average cost-per-click for an Instagram ad is $3.56. That’s too expensive for most nonprofits, thus the best option is to encourage your followers to visit your website from Instagram by embracing the “link in bio” strategy.
“Link in Bio” Strategy
The “Link in Bio” Strategy is when you simply add “link in bio” to your captions when asking your followers to visit your website to take action. For example, in this post the International Fund for Animal Welfare requests that followers “tap the link in their bio” to read more about their work:
To ensure that their followers can always find the correlating links for all posts that include “link in bio” and to see analytics of exactly how many followers do click on the links, the IFAW is using Later’s Linkin.bio tool to create an archive for all their posts:
If possible, the best option is to create your own “Link in Bio” landing page hosted on your website, such as conservation.org/link-in-bio, but for those that do not have the capacity, Later’s Linkin.bio tool is an excellent alternative.
“Link” Stickers in Stories
“Link” stickers enable nonprofits to easily add hyperlinks to Instagram Stories. There are no recent studies about the average click-through rate for “Link” stickers, but currently for Nonprofit Tech for Good, the click-through rate averages two clicks per one hundred accounts reached. The problem is that, on average, the current reach for stories by Nonprofit Tech for Good is only .0002%
Customized for small nonprofits with limited time and financial resources, the Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits webinar demonstrates how to create and maintain a successful social media strategy and provides an honest examination of the benefits and drawbacks of using Instagram for your nonprofit.
The webinar is the first in a series of three to earn a Certificate in Social Media Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.
6) Engage followers that comment on your posts and reels.
Instagram Marketing 101: Respond to comments from your followers! This is an obvious must-do, but a quick browse of comments posted on the accounts of nonprofits on Instagram reveals that the majority of nonprofits ignore comments.
If your nonprofit doesn’t have the time to reply to comments with words, then at the very least acknowledge the comments with a “❤️.” This can be done in seconds using the mobile app or Meta Business Suite > Inbox > Instagram. For example, the International Wolf Center is consistent in liking comments (when it makes sense) posted on their Instagram:
7) Utilize Instagram Fundraising Tools.
According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 10% of online donors have made a donation through Instagram Fundraising Tools. Of those, 93% said they are likely to do so again. That’s an incredibly high donor retention rate for a set of tools that are still in their early adoption phase. Nonprofits would be wise to experiment with Instagram Fundraising Tools now in its early days and embrace new tools as they are launched.
To begin, check to see if Instagram Fundraising Tools are available in your country. If yes, then sign up for Facebook Fundraising Tools. Once approved, connect your nonprofit’s Instagram Business Account with your nonprofit’s verified Facebook Page to get access to:
- “Support” buttons on profiles (only visible in the mobile app): Similar to Facebook, its unlikely that your followers will donate through the “Support” button on your profile unless your ask them to in captions.
- Donation stickers in stories: According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, donation stickers are not effective.
- Nonprofit fundraisers in photo posts, reels, and live videos (only visible in the mobile app): Instagram Nonprofit Fundraisers can be created by nonprofits or by individuals and brands that want to support nonprofits. Thus far, Instagram Nonprofit Fundraisers added to photo posts have been the most effective.
Your nonprofit and your followers can easily create an Instagram Nonprofit Fundraiser in minutes. Nonprofit fundraisers last for 30 days, can be added to multiple posts, and featured on the creator’s bio.
That said, odds are that your followers do not know how to create an Nonprofit Fundraiser, so it benefits your nonprofit to spread the word. The International Fund for Animal Welfare asks their followers to create fundraiser in captions:
It’s also important to know the donor experience on Instagram. A donation to the Global Sanctuary for Elephants is below. Be sure to note the checkbox for the email opt-in. You will not receive the donor’s mailing address, but if the donor opts-in, you will receive their email address.
Instagram Donation Receipt Sent via Email:
Finally, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of nonprofits have been terrible at thanking their Instagram (and Facebook) donors that provide their email addresses and that’s a wasted opportunity. As we all know, donor appreciation is the cornerstone of effective donor retention.
8) Experiment with Instagram Ads.
Organic reach on Instagram is currently estimated to be 4-6%. Like Facebook, Instagram has quickly evolved into a pay-to-play platform and like Facebook, experimenting with Instagram Ads is now required if you plan on investing time in growing an Instagram community for your nonprofit.
Instagram Ads are more expensive than Facebook because they are the only way for nonprofits to link directly to their website in Instagram Posts. According to Web FX the average cost-per-click for an Instagram ad is $3.56 compared to $0.97 for Facebook Ads.
Instagram Ads can be easily created, however, to excel at Instagram Ads, you’ll need room to fail and experiment – and you’ll need to double your advertising budget. In Facebook Best Practices for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Tech for Good recommends that small nonprofits spend a minimum of $100 a month on Facebook Ads. To add Instagram Ads to your social media marketing strategy, add another $100 to your monthly budget. That said, it is worth noting that $200 a month is considered a very, very small digital advertising budget. On average, nonprofits spend $1,006 monthly on digital advertising.
Creating and managing effective Instagram Ads is a hard-earned skill. You need to know how to create UTMs to track traffic as well as Meta Pixels to confirm conversions from your ads. To ensure that your ad dollars are well-spent, consider signing up for Meta’s Certification Program. It’s free, beneficial to your nonprofit, and looks excellent on a resume.
9) Experiment with Instagram Stories & Instagram Live (maybe).
Best Practices 1-8 above should be the top priorities for nonprofits, but if your nonprofit has the time, it’s worth experimenting with Instagram Stories and Instagram Live to see if they are a fit for your nonprofit on Instagram.
Tangible return-on-investment (ROI) from Instagram Stories is elusive. As mentioned above, “Donate” stickers in stories are not effective for the vast majority of nonprofits that use them and click-throughs from “Link” stickers are low.
That said, if your nonprofit is less worried about acquiring donations or website traffic from using Instagram Stories, but you’re all in for using stories to engage your community, then experiment with the vast array of engagement tools offered for Instagram Stories and be sure to archive your stories in Highlights. For example, Junior Achievement of Arizona:
Like Facebook Live, for most nonprofits, Instagram Live is best used periodically for special events and campaigns and even though you can add a “Donate” button to your live streams, thus far according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, fundraising through Instagram Live has been unsuccessful. If you have an influencer willing to go live with a “Donate” button, that could be effective, but that strategy is only relevant to a very few well-connected large nonprofits.
10) Study and Use Meta Business Suite.
Meta is putting a lot of effort into building their Meta Business Suite platform and Meta/Facebook/Instagram has a pattern of rewarding early adopters. Meta prefers that admins use Meta Business Suite to post to Facebook and Instagram rather than using third-party apps, such as Buffer and HootSuite. We don’t have exact data, but Meta has made it clear that posts from third-party apps get less exposure in the news feed.
- Share and schedule posts, reels, and stories to both Facebook and Instagram
- Manage your Facebook and Instagram Inboxes
- Create and manage ads
- Access and study Insights
Post Updated: December 27, 2022
Our Certificate in Social Media Marketing & Fundraising program covers the fundamentals of social media marketing and fundraising for your nonprofit. Participants will learn how to create a social media strategy, how to craft a content marketing plan, and current best practices for using social media for community engagement and fundraising.
The program requires the completion of three webinars and costs a total of $100 USD. You can attend the webinars live or view the recordings. Learn more & register!