Instagram Best Practices for Nonprofits

Understanding Instagram's Impact on Nonprofit Organizations 

Originally released in October 2010, Instagram quickly became one of the leading social media platforms on the internet with over 500 million users logging in on a daily basis and over 2 billion active users accessing the application at least once a month, That means everything month one-quarter of the world's population is scrolling through a never ending stream of photos, videos, and live feed recordings. Originally created as a "check-in" app, developers quickly re-branded the app to focus on photo sharing, which had become its most popular feature. Almost 15 years later, and now under the Meta umbrella of apps along with Facebook, Instagram accounts continue to increase, becoming the 4th most visited website in the world. But Instagram has the capacity to be so much more than a place to post your vacation photos or show off what you had for dinner last night.  According to statistics 50% of NGO's have an Instagram account with many posting at least daily, if not several times per week.  Charitable organizations have realized that having a social media strategy is an excellent, if not essential, way to spread their message and promote their cause. 

When used efficiently, Instagram can become a powerful tool for nonprofit charities. This social media giant's vast user base spans the globe, giving nonprofits the ability to reach an audience they may never have had access to before. Instagram is also an image oriented application, and in today's world where everything is moving a million miles a minute, it makes it easier to grab people's attention with posts that may include a variety of media based content including photos, videos and live feed transmissions. These visually based posts also help foster a more personal connection with the audience, making the charity and their cause appear more "human" and more likely to incite an emotional reaction. Every post can tell a story, and everyone loves a good story.

Instagram also gives companies, small businesses, and charities the opportunity to track their growth and audience interaction using special features and analytical tools. This information can help a charity gain a clearer understanding of supporter demographics and help gauge how the content they are producing is performing. By using this information to their advantage, a charity can increase their digital outreach and social media impact while increasing both follower support and donations. But we'll delve into the analytics side of things a little bit later...

Tips and Best Practices to Create Impactful Instagram Accounts for Nonprofits  

Creating an Instagram page for your charity doesn't have to be complicated. While every charity-based account is unique, effective nonprofit Instagram profiles all share common elements. The first step is obviously to set up your charities account. In order to access some of the special features that Instagram has created to assist your charity you will need to register your account as a business and connect it to your nonprofits Facebook page. Once you have done this you are able to access certain special features such as the option to add  "contact" and "donate now" buttons to your page. If you would like to learn more about this process you can check directly with Instagram on their website here.

Once you have created your account it is time to move on to the basics. This includes your charities profile picture, bio and story highlights. But, just because they are the basics doesn’t mean they are incredibly important. These are the first things users will see when accessing your page and as they say it's rare you get a second chance to make a good first impression.  

Most charities will incorporate their logo or another photo that is clearly associated with their brand into their profile picture. It helps with brand recognition when you use the same profile picture across various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Threads or X (formerly known as Twitter). To convey the professionalism of your charity the photo should be visually appealing and of high quality resolution. When searching for your charity through the Instagram search engine the profile photo is the first thing people will see and the first chance a charity will have to get their foot through the proverbial door.

After a well chosen profile image is in place, the next thing a user will see when accessing your profile is the bio. This is your charity's first opportunity to explain who you are and what you do. Explain your mission statement, and help people understand why your charity is worth supporting. Keep it clear and concise. You only have 150 characters, including eye-catching emojis, to work with so make them count. Be sure to include a link to your website, as well as any fundraisers you’re running at the moment,  as it's a great way to drive traffic to your website and gain more exposure. And don’t forget to include the ever-present #hashtags! In your bio as well. The Instagram platform allows you to not only follow pages and profiles but also specific hashtags. Having relevant hashtags incorporated into your bio will increase your search ability and help give your page access to like minded Instagram users who may never have heard of your charity before.

All in all, the bio and profile photo are the first points of contact a user will have with a charity when searching through Instagram and can make all the difference when it comes to whether a user will scroll down or just scroll over.

The Art of Storytelling: Content Strategy, Creation, and Timing 

Whether you are setting up your charity Facebook page for the first time or if you're trying to find ways to maximize your profile potential there are some strategies you can follow that can make a big difference

Let's go back to the analogy of your charities Instagram account being your book and your content being your stories. The beauty of Instagram is that you have several different ways in which to share your stories. While a picture is worth a thousand words (or in terms of an actual Instagram post about 400 words) and still photos remain a very viable way to post, more and more accounts, both business, and non profit are also relying on videos to attract viewers attention and engage with their audience. Stories become a lot more interesting when they are told in different formats.  

There are various methods in which to create Instagram content for your charity. Let's take a look at 5 of the most popular ways in which Instagram organizations are creating content and engaging their audiences

Feed Posts: Feed posts are the original method of content creation and are typically the first form of content users will see when accessing your page. Feed posts consist of single photos, videos of up to one minute long and carousels (a series of up to 10 different images or videos that a user can swipe through).  Feed posts allow you to insert a caption where you can tell your story through words and incorporate relevant hashtags. Because IG allows you to not only follow pages but particular hashtags, this is a great way for users with similar interests to find your page. When adding photos and videos to your feed post it's important to keep your page looking cohesive, using high quality images and videos, similar fonts, color palette and verbiage in each post. Just because your charity is non profit doesn't mean that it can't benefit from branding. 

Reels: Reels are short videos that can be anywhere between 15-30 seconds in length, and is potentially the best way to reach new followers. In fact, a recent study suggests that Instagram users are spending 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels. The great thing about Reels is that not only do these short videos show up in the main feed of a followers account, but also appear on the "Explore Reels" page, which is accessible to the entire Instagram community. When including the appropriate hashtags and captions, reels have the capacity to reach thousands, if not millions of users who don't currently follow your page. The reels shown to any particular user are dependent on the algorithms of individual users, so this is a great way to get extra exposure, entice users to take a closer look at your page and potentially convert swipers to followers. For maximum content strategy, keep your reels short, on brand, and include captions and hashtags to help your reels reach your ideal audience.

•Stories: “Stories”, like Reels, is a tool that allows you to post photos, text or short videos (up to 15 seconds) on your account. There are several differences between the two though, such as all videos posted as Stories will automatically delete themselves after 24 hours, and are only accessible to people who have already subscribed to your page. However, should you wish your Story to be accessible after its 24 hour deadline, you can always save it to your Highlights on your main page, where it can be viewed indefinitely.  There are quite a few benefits to using Stories, especially considering over half a billion people are using the feature on a daily basis.  Because of its limited shelf-life, Stories  allows you to create content that can be considered more intimate, and of a more urgent nature. You can share moments as they happen, create interactive polls and quizzes, or have your followers engage in Q&A sessions.  When viewing your story, followers can also react or send messages directly to your account. All of these help can give your page a more personal touch and assist in followers feeling more connected to your charity and the message you are trying to spread.

•Instagram Videos (IGTV): Instagram Videos, not to be confused with Reels, give you the option of posting longer videos (up to 60 minutes) and are basically like having your own television or YouTube channel built right into your profile. With the distinctive "Play" button on your profile, IGTV is great for posting interviews, how-to-videos, or mini documentaries. Typically IGTV videos will not draw in new followers but will give current followers the opportunity to delve a little deeper into your cause and help make them feel more connected. 

•Instagram Live: As the name suggests, Instagram Live is a live feed broadcast that allows your charity to speak in real time to followers during a live transmission.  Followers can react, comment and even ask questions during an unedited live stream that can last for up to 4 hours. Upon opening the IG application, it is possible to see which pages are currently live and it is possible to join in on the conversation with the click of a button.

Ok, now that you know about the different ways you can post and create content for your nonprofit or charitable organization, the next question is what kind of strategies can be used to maximize your exposure? How frequently should a page post and what are the ideal times to do so to reach the most people you possibly can? 

There's a lot of debate about optimal posting times, and a lot of factors come into play such as demographics, time zones etc., but generally speaking the best times to post during the week is early morning when people are starting their day and later in the evening after people have finished their workday and are starting to wind down. Once the weekend comes, the highest scrolling traffic occurs late morning when people are relaxing and enjoying their free time before heading out to finish weekend chores, spend time with family and friends etc. But this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Play with your posting times. What works one day at a certain time may not work on another. Make note of which posts seem to be receiving the most views and “likes” and adjust your posting times accordingly.

As far as how often you should be posting, this is also up for debate. There is a fine line between keeping your followers engaged and overwhelming them, which can lead to followers feeling disengaged and hitting the dreaded "unfollow" button.  There does, however, seem to be some consensus that a charity or non profit should be uploading content at least several times per week. Posting photos and videos on the regular feed 3-5 times per week keeps your online presence relevant without overloading follower feeds. Uploading Stories on a daily basis, if possible, is ideal in that it is a more interactive way to engage with subscribers, providing them with behind the scene footage, and helping to make them feel more engaged and involved in the day to day operations. Ideally, Reels should be posted on average of 1-3 times per week, keeping in mind that Reel Posts are the most far-reaching and most effective at attracting new followers. IGTV and Instagram Live are best for connecting with an already established audience on a deeper level, but don't necessarily need to be accessed more than one or two times per month.The best way to maximize exposure in regards to posting at the optimal time and with the optimal frequency is a trial by error operation.  Also, always make sure your posts offer top-notch content, as quality will always outweigh quantity, and now is the time to dive into the topic of analytics and how data can have a huge impact on your non-profits Instagram page.

Unlocking Instagram Insights: Data-Driven Strategies to Fine-Tune Your Approach 

The best way to get a sense of how your page is performing is through analytics and the built in Instagram analytics feature is called Insights. Once you have converted your non-profits profile to a business account, which we talked about earlier,  you gain access to all the data that the Insights program provides. Simply tap the three lines on the top right corner of your page and select "Insights". Insights (or Instagram Analytics) is all about data and metrics and it can be easy to get lost in statistics and pie charts, but generally speaking, there are several key metrics that you should be analyzing to see how your account is performing.

The first page you will see will be your "Overview", which is essentially the summary page of your accounts performance. Here you can see your total number of followers, as well as the accounts you've engaged (how often people are commenting, or reacting to your content), and the accounts you have reached (how many accounts have seen your content in general). You'll also see a header that will tell you of any significant improvements you've had within your desired time-frame. Did you have an upswing in the number of accounts reached in the last 7 days?  What about in the last 30 days? "Recent Highlights" is where you will see that information. Once you've taken a look at these numbers it is possible to delve deeper into each category, providing you with more and more detailed information, but going down that rabbit hole can just make things confusing and convoluted, so to break it down here are some of the top metrics that you should be paying attention to which can help make or break your non profits Instagram success.

Follower Count and Growth: Not long ago, Instagram was all about how many followers you had, and for many people it still is. However, it should be noted that the number of followers any account can have these days may have skewed numbers due to a huge increase in bot accounts, paid accounts and straight up fake accounts. This doesn't mean that this metric should be completely discounted. Tracking your follower numbers helps you understand how your content is being received and if casual viewers are making the commitment of hitting that "Like" button and being open to receiving more content from you in the future.

Engagement Rate: Engagement Rate is arguably the most important metric, and helps you gauge the interaction and physical engagement between the content you are providing and the people who are (or are not) connecting with it. Engagement types include everything from likes to comments, from shares to saves. If your post makes people stop and react as opposed to continuing to scroll on by then you're on the right track. 

Reach and Impressions: Initially these two concepts can come across as being fairly similar. It's about how many times your post has been viewed, correct? Yes and no. The reach of a post is how many times a unique user (one individual) has viewed a post. This number allows you to assess how many times an individual viewer has seen your post and allows you to assess how many current followers have seen your post or perhaps how many new ones have done the same. The impression count, on the other hand, lets you know how many times your post has been seen in total, by both unique viewers but also if they have been viewed repeatedly by the same user. Having a high impression count tells you that your post has viewers engaged enough that they are rewatching the content repeatedly.

•Audience Demographics: While we touched on the subject of what time is best to post, this sub-section of Instagram Insights gives you this information tailored to your account and should be an essential part of your content strategy. It can tell you who your audience is, where they are located, their gender and what time they are actively online. Keeping track of this information can help you identify your optimal posting time and whether or not your content is tracking in your ideal gender and age demographics. 

In short, using just a few of the metrics that Instagram Insights offers can be an invaluable tool when it comes to creating engaging content that can resonate with current followers and create new ones, and the more followers you have the easier it is to use the platform to spread your mission and achieve your non profit goals. 

Navigating Instagram's Legal Landscape: Ethical Considerations for Nonprofits 

So you've done your best to create an eye catching and engaging profile for your charity. You've delved into the somewhat complex world of Instagram metrics and are using all the tips and techniques you can find to make your page successful and interactive. You are using creative ways to spread your message and encourage participation and perhaps even garner donations from your followers. Mission accomplished right? Not quite. There's one more thing to keep in mind when using social media platforms like Instagram to elevate your charities' online presence and that's understanding the complexities that come into play in regards to the legal and ethical issues in regards to social media, in particular concerning privacy issues, data security and ethical content guidelines.

We've all heard stories in the last few years about security breaches and cyber attacks on the internet. From big box stores, to wall street and entire social media platforms like Facebook, no online entities are completely exempt from the threat of security breaches, and non profit organizations are no exemption. Non profit organizations need to prioritize privacy and data security in order to secure the information of both donors, beneficiaries and followers alike. Nonprofits typically handle sensitive information such as the financial records of donors and therefore can be a target for hackers, especially for smaller or grass root organizations that may not have the same kind of budget or IT department to handle such situations. It's important for these organizations to ensure that all their information is encrypted and stored securely, and to add extra layers of security such as two-factor authentication as well as  complicated and ever-changing passwords. It is also important that staff be trained in how to handle sensitive information and have a clear response plan should a breach of data security occur. At the end of the day it's all about protecting the confidentiality that your charity has received from its donors and beneficiaries and treating this information with the utmost repsect.

As far as the ethical content practices of a non profit on a social media platform such as IG, the guidelines remain the same. To be successful, a non-profit must be authentic, transparent and respectful. A non-profit should never exaggerate their work or their progress and always be clear about their mission and objectives. Fact check everything you put online because, as we all know, once something goes online it's out there forever.

It's also very important to be respectful, sensitive and responsible with the imagery you are using. Because Instagram is a visually based platform it's easier for people to become engaged and emotionally invested. While your cause may be one that is very serious, continuously posting photos or videos of doom and gloom can turn followers away.  Try and find a balance.  Post volunteer profiles, or videos of some of the positive progress you've made in various campaigns. People love a feel good story and are more apt to involve themselves in a charity that can demonstrate some real positive change.  That being said, if using photos or videos of real individuals and communities in your posts and stories be sure to have their explicit permission and explain exactly how and why you are going to use their likeness on your profile. Followers don't want to see exploitative or demeaning photos on your profile, especially when it comes to children or communities facing real poverty and struggle.  

Last but not least, listen to your followers. Monitor the comment sections and take the opportunity to address any questions or concerns. Be sure to delete any comments that could be considered racist, slanderous, or inappropriate,  not only your organization but also by other users. If some people are going to "live in the comment sections” then make sure that it's a healthy environment for all involved.

Instagram itself has its own set of community guidelines in place, and just like everything else in this world, it is constantly evolving. The best thing you can do for your non profit organization is stay informed within the ongoing discussion and also to check in frequently with Instagram's Community Guidelines  page which you can find here.

Conclusion: Building a Lasting Impact on Instagram

While cultivating a powerful IG account for your non profit organization may seem a little overwhelming at first, it can definitely be worth the time and effort. What's most important is to have content that catches the eye, has a clear mission statement and is something that users can engage in. Post. Create Reels, update your account with Stories. Once you have a grasp on that it's time to explore the tools available to you such as Instagram Analytics to really help you nail down what you're doing right and what changes you need to make to make your account better and more appealing. Following these best practices are the foundation to creating a compelling Instagram account. Consistent, authentic, and ethical content helps maintain credibility and attract long-term support. That being said, Instagram, along with other social media platforms, are ever changing. Be sure to keep up to date and adapt your strategies accordingly. This along with constantly revising your data and metrics will ensure that you're up to date, flexible and are able to evolve with your follower base and their ever changing likes and dislikes. 

In conclusion, the visually based experience that Instagram offers can be an invaluable tool for non profits. It provides an avenue where charities can visually tell their stories, promote their mission, recruit new volunteers, and have interactive experiences with their followers, all the while allowing people to donate your cause directly through the app. Keep in mind that Instagram has a much higher interaction rate than most of the other social networking sites. Use this to your advantage. Read the comments after every post, go live and answers viewer questions directly. Post polls and ask question in your stories and reels. In a society that, in many ways, is more disconnected than ever, with more and more people aimlessly scrolling through their phones, be the organization that makes them stop and take note of what you are doing, what your mission is and how the donation dollars you are receiving are put to work. From interactive features to donation stickers and everything in between, Instagram has incorporated many different features that can be incredibly helpful to non profits, giving you yet one more avenue to fundraise online. So next time you're scrolling through your feed, dreaming of your next vacation or looking at your cousins wedding photos, feel free to take a moment and look up some of the charities doing amazing work out there, see how you can get involved and make a change, all with a simple swipe.



1. How can nonprofits measure the real impact of their Instagram activities?

One of the best ways a nonprofit can measure the real impact of their Instagram activities is by closely monitoring their analytics. Ideally you’d like to see a net increase in your follower base on a monthly basis (the net number of new subscribers minus those who have chosen to “unfollow" your account). Another important piece of date to look at is engagement. Are people watching your reels? Are they watching them repeatedly and responding to them, be it through comments, emojis or “reactions”? Analytics can be a bit tricky but as long as you are making sense of some of the most important ones you can gain some real insight into how your account is performing.

2. What are some common mistakes nonprofits make on Instagram and how can they avoid them?

There are several common mistakes that non profits make on Instagram that, with a little care, can easily be avoided. First of all your content needs to be clear, concise and consistent. Remember that your account is your story and if it is sloppy, inconsistent or disorganized, people will just swipe on through to the next. Secondly, be sure to use all the tools at your disposal, use the analytics tool and review the data that it gives you. Have an impressive and eye-catching bio with links to your website and  be sure to include any current campaigns you may be promoting. Use hashtags to bring in viewers with similar interests and increase your visibility (just don’t #overdoit). Remember, if done properly, Instagram is free advertising at its finest. 

3. How often should a nonprofit post on Instagram to maintain engagement without overwhelming followers?

The general consensus on how often a nonprofit should post on Instagram is about 3-5 times per week. This ensures that you are keeping your followers engaged but without becoming overwhelming.  It is also recommended that you mix it up, Mix and match feed posts with stories and reels. Stories are great because they disappear after 24 hours giving your post some exclusivity and don’t they come across as being intrusive. Go live every couple of weeks, especially if you have a big event or fundraiser coming up. The idea is to keep your content fresh and ever changing, nobody wants to see the same material recycled over and over again.

4. What are the best tools for scheduling Instagram posts and analyzing engagement for nonprofits?

Constantly coming up with new content is a lot of work on its own, let alone trying to analyze all the analytical data as well as plan the roll out of new posts and content on a daily, weekly and even monthly basis. While all of this can feel overwhelming, there are websites out there that can help. While some focus solely on analytics and others solely on creating content calendars, there are some that combine both, giving your nonprofit one less thing to worry about. Take into consideration your budget, needs and current size of your social media team, if you have one. Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and Buffer are a few of the best known that incorporate both data analysis along with content release. It should also be noted that all of the aforementioned sites offer discounts or special pricing for non profit organizations.

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