How Top Charities and Non-Profits are Using Social Media

June 5, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand Metrics | Digital | Non-Profit | Social Media

CtrMktgRsrch-Use-Social-by-Charities-Non-Profits-June2014Social media use is almost ubiquitous among top charities and non-profits, with 98% using at least one platform, finds a new study from the Center of Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The study analyzed the social activities of the Philanthropy 400 (2013 list), excluding colleges and universities so as to focus on the more traditional definition of charities and non-profits. Almost all –  97% – of the social media administrators surveyed reported using some type of social video platform.

In fact, the use of video by top charities and non-profits is even more prevalent than their use of Facebook (92%) or Twitter (86%), indicating a heavy focus on visual content. Indeed, more than 7 in 10 respondents said their organization uses Pinterest, and half also reported using Instagram. In each case, adoption of those platforms was significantly higher for charities than for Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companies, which have formed the basis for other similar studies.

Other results from the survey indicate a high degree of sophistication on the part of top charities and non-profits. Almost 3 in 4 reported having a written policy governing the use of social media by organization employees; only about one-third of Inc. 500 companies have such guidelines in place. Moreover, 83% of respondents to the latest survey indicated that they monitor the internet for buzz, posts, conversations and news about their organization.

The study finds some interesting attitudes towards social media as a tools for raising money. While the vast majority of charities responding to the survey said they are using social media to increase awareness of their mission, far fewer said their top objective is generating donations. And slightly fewer than half reported using donations as a measure of effectiveness for their social efforts, far behind more popular metrics such as fans/followers (74%), hits (67%) and comments/posts (62%). Nevertheless, when asked how useful social media is for raising money, 7 in 10 indicated that social tools are very (33%) or somewhat (38%) useful, with only 1 in 10 rating them “not very useful.”

About the Data: The study describes its methodology in part as follows:

“The Philanthropy 400 is a list that ranks the top 400 charities and nonprofit organizations in the United States. The list is based on the donations the charities and nonprofits raise from private support. The rankings reflect cash and product donations as well as stock, land, and other gifts from individuals, corporations, and foundations. It is designed to show which charities and nonprofit organizations appeal most to donors. For complete details on the Philanthropy 400 ranking of charities and nonprofit organizations, please visit their website at

Besides the more traditional charities that rely on a broad pool of donations from Americans at all income levels, the list does include organizations that create charitable funds for donors and those that depend on America’s wealthiest philanthropists. These groups were included in this study. Our final sample includes 86% or 246 of the remaining charities after removing colleges and universities.

The research presented here was conducted using two approaches, internet searches and telephone interviews. First, the homepages of the organizations were inspected to identify which social media tools were being used and which social media sites were accessible with direct links from the homepages. If no links were located from the homepage, a search was done both on and off their site looking for evidence of social media usage. The second level of research involved nationwide telephone surveys of 129 of those organizations. All interviews took place in the spring of 2014, under the direction of researcher Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes.

The data that follows are based on homepage reviews, internet searches and detailed interviews with administrators of the organizations from top charities in the United States. The organizations that participated are diverse in many ways including their missions, size and total private support they receive. Their headquarters span the entire United States. The information in this study is based on data received from some of the most well known charities and nonprofits in the country including the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, and the American Cancer Society.

On the 2013 Philanthropy 400 list, the number 2, 3, and 4 charities listed, Fidelity Charitable, The Salvation Army, and The Task Force for Global Health, participated in telephone surveys and are included in the study which features information on 63 of the top 100 charities identified on the list. This statistically valid study takes an unprecedented look at the use of social media tools among these savvy motivators.

The 129 social media administrators that responded to telephone interviews were asked a variety of questions about their charities social media usage. The study looked in-depth at how social media usage is trending among them. Detailed questions were asked about staffing their social media efforts, having a written social media policy for employees, as well as how social media effectiveness is measured within their organizations. Questions were asked about the organizations usage of many of the most popular platforms and what the main objective is of these efforts.”

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