How Different Size Nonprofits Perform on Social Media

How Different Size Nonprofits Perform on Social Media

Over the last decade, the use of social media has become increasingly ingrained in our everyday lives.

We have reached a point where at least 80% of each generation – Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers, use social media every day. People use social media for a variety of reasons that are shaped by their individual preferences and interests. With how prevalent it has become in each of our lives, it is imperative that nonprofits invest in developing an effective social media presence.

Most nonprofit organizations have come to understand the importance of social media. 90% of nonprofits worldwide are on social media, and 94% of those believe that it is effective. Of the nonprofits using social media, 84% use Facebook, 46% use Twitter, 42% use Instagram, and 28% use Linkedin. Unsurprisingly, these statistics indicate that Facebook has become the de facto social media platform for nonprofits. This makes sense considering Facebook is the platform with the largest user base. But beyond Facebook, how should your nonprofit organization approach social media? The answer to that depends on the size of your nonprofit. 

Industry expert GuideStar, one of the nonprofits that we work with, breaks down nonprofits into one of six size categories – grassroots, small, mid-size, large, economic engines, and powerhouses. Note that a nonprofit’s size is defined by its annual budget and is generally not indicative of an organization’s quality or overall impact. The breakdown by annual budget is as follows:

Grassroots: Less than $1 million

Small: $1 million – $5 million

Mid-size: $5.1 million – $10 million

Large: $10 million – $50 million

Economic Engine: $50 million – $5 billion

Powerhouse: $5 billion+

According to GuideStar, the vast majority (66.3%) of nonprofits fall within the grassroots category. To put this in perspective, for every powerhouse nonprofit, there are several thousand grassroots organizations. 

While the difference in social media usage between a grassroots organization and a powerhouse nonprofit is night and day, there is not as much of a difference between a large organization and a powerhouse. At a certain budget level, the strategies and tactics stop changing, and often the only difference between two organizations’ social media use is the scope and reach. Functionally, there are three levels of nonprofit social media use – small, mid-size, and large. To help your organization understand how you should be using social media, we will be examining how each size nonprofit does on social media. 


One thing that large nonprofits have that sets them apart is an abundance of time and resources. Having a larger operating budget naturally lends itself to being able to allocate more time and energy into marketing. Most larger organizations are able to have dedicated marketing/social media positions in-house or hire outside marketing teams, as opposed to smaller organizations whose social media is managed by an employee with multiple responsibilities.

With that in mind, a great example of a large nonprofit using social media is UNICEF. Perhaps the largest international organization dedicated to protecting children, UNICEF has done an incredible job of adapting to changes in digital marketing and adopting social media. Active on all four of the major social media platforms, UNICEF is third on the list of top nonprofits on social media. With almost 8 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, 4.5 million on Instagram, and over 1.5 million on Linkedin, UNICEF is a great example of nonprofit social media excellence. One of the biggest reasons they succeed is that much of their presence is dedicated to sharing stories.

UNICEF takes stories from the children they help and translate them into an effective call to action for their followers. Their posts clearly communicate a need and a way for people to fulfill that need. UNICEF is fully taking advantage of the tools that social media has to offer. The organization posts frequently, often multiple times a day, and the messaging on each post is tooled for each platform. Even when posting the same content – say a picture of a child – the copy on the posts is modified for each platform. Essentially, their success, much like other large nonprofits, boils down to a robust presence that is geared toward their audience.


Medium-sized nonprofits are in a curious position where they are often implementing the same strategies as large nonprofits but on a more limited scale. While they have more of a capacity to manage their social media, it is still not on the same level as larger organizations. If they do have dedicated marketing positions, it is likely that they are more focused on overall marketing operations beyond social media.

One of the best examples of medium-sized nonprofits using social media is a nonprofit that Cause Inspired Media works with – Friends of the Smokies. Friends of the Smokies is primarily active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. On Facebook, they have over 150,000 followers, nearly 26,000 on Twitter, and over 45,000 on Instagram. While they do not post as frequently as a larger organization would, they do post consistently – usually about one to two times per day on each platform. Their social media posts show a clear problem, and they effectively communicate how they help solve the problem. Again, while the content of a post might be the same from platform to platform, they adapt the messaging to fit the platform. 

Of particular note is their great use of media. They know that their audience follows them for their dedication to protecting the Great Smoky Mountains, and the pictures they share feeds into that. Showing pictures and videos taken in the Smokies with a compelling message is effective, as indicated by the direct donations on their Facebook posts and the number of engagements they have per post. As we stated previously, a medium nonprofit’s success can be attributed to many of the same factors as a large nonprofit, just on a smaller scale.


Small nonprofits do not have the same luxuries that large and medium nonprofit organizations have. This is the most varied category of nonprofit social media presence. Most small nonprofits feel they do not have the time or resources to dedicate to social media. As we touched on earlier, if a smaller nonprofit has a social media presence, it is being maintained by someone who is likely fulfilling multiple roles in the organization. Generally, their presence is sparse and primarily focused on one or two platforms – in most cases Facebook and Twitter. 

The reality of the current digital landscape is that maintaining an effective social media presence is vital for nonprofit success. Nonprofits cannot afford to ignore social media. Trying to work with social media as a smaller nonprofit can be daunting, especially when looking at larger nonprofits and their presence. Many look at organizations like UNICEF or Friends of the Smokies and say “we don’t have the time or resources to do what they do.” While true, that is not as much of a factor as you might think. For small nonprofits on social media, it is less about doing everything, and more about doing what you do effectively and efficiently.

Only 44% of nonprofits have a written out social media strategy, and only 42% use a social media scheduling calendar. Building a social media plan is a key component of an effective social media strategy. In the past, we have discussed how to build an Integrated marketing strategy, and what works for that also works for creating an effective social media plan. Plan and write out a social media calendar and strategy. This may take some time and resources upfront that you feel you do not have, but this can save your organization time in the long run and see a high return on investment. 

Additionally, your organization needs to look at social media and determine what platforms to use and what you are attempting to use them for. When doing this, frame it through the lens of what your capacity is. That in mind, note that you do not have to use every social media platform. So long as you are doing so effectively, focusing on one or two platforms – we recommend Facebook and Twitter – is a completely legitimate strategy. As for what counts as effective, think about your social media messaging. Nonprofits are in a unique position where they are able to share incredibly compelling stories. Your organization is the intermediary for societal change for whatever your mission is. Exemplifying your impact – showing what you have done and the need for your mission – is a highly effective tactic. Determine what your target audience is to figure out how to cater your message in order to meaningfully grow your online presence. 

Overall, smaller organizations have too much to gain from maintaining an effective social media presence to not do so. With even more changes in the social media landscape on the horizon in 2020, nonprofits need to make sure they are keeping up with current social trends to remain successful in the new decade.

If you have any questions about planning and implementing your nonprofit’s social media marketing strategy in 2020, or you are interested in working with Cause Inspired Media to optimize your social media, contact us using this form or at 904-429-7575 ext. 101.