Your Nonprofit Has a Solemn Cause, But What Should Your Tone Be on Social?

You founded or work for your nonprofit for a reason: the cause you’re supporting matters. It matters to you and it matters to everyone directly affected. However, while your cause is worthy, it doesn’t matter to everyone. Therein lies the real fight. How do you get people who are not directly affected by the problem, or aren’t aware of you or the problem you’re trying to solve to concern themselves, to donate, to take action? Why should they care?

The idea of raising awareness for a cause has become commonplace. Social media provides an incredible utility to even our least socially conscious. With two points of contact, finger to screen, anyone can share a cause with hundreds of followers and it can be a cause someone literally just came across. Perhaps even a cause the sharer knows nothing about. The dissemination of cause related marketing material has never happened faster.

Think about Facebook’s Birthday Fundraiser feature. So frequently in my feed I see it employed. Before features like this, how many birthday parties had you attended with a cause hook and calls to action? I’d bet few to none. It wasn’t convenient and it would take connections and creativity to pull off. But most importantly, the idea wasn’t readily available. Facebook has made this a priority by promoting this idea. “It’s your birthday. Have people donate to a cause instead of buying you a Hallmark card you’re probably just going to throw away.” What a concept!

Social media has given anyone and everyone the tools and the ideas necessary to participate in a cause bigger than themselves, be it through sharing, donating directly on network, setting up personal donation campaigns, etc. With these tools and promotional vehicles, your nonprofit is now available to a massive audience. Thing is? So is every other nonprofit.

Social media has become an incredibly competitive environment for nonprofits.

Your nonprofit is competing for eyeballs, engagement, dollars, and heart strings. Any one person only has so much time, money, and emotional energy. Here we are back to, why should someone care about what you’re doing?

You have this answer. You began answering it in your mind the first time you read the question. You probably have this answer practiced and polished, but for a minute, step outside how passionate you are about your cause, about what you’re doing, and think about it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know who you are, has no personal connection to your cause, and isn’t on social media looking for you or what you do. This is easy if you think about the last time you came across a cause you didn’t connect with. 

Okay. Does this sound bleak? It’s not! There is hope! Perhaps more than ever with social media as a promotional vehicle.

I’d contend that to meet your social media goals:

  • You have to consider the social media environment a competitive one. Are you willing to compete for dollars and heart strings?
  • You have to consider your presentation and how your cause makes people feel. The way you present your nonprofit is everything.
  • You should be thinking about your social media efforts as a marketing effort. Yes, what you’re doing is outreach. It’s also marketing.

There are clearly more things to consider when promoting your nonprofit on social, but if we take just these three tenets, it becomes clear tone is important.

The right tone is how you achieve engagement…

…and engagement is how you increase cause awareness through the lateral dissemination of your messaging. More dissemination means more dollars and more heart strings.

My cause is solemn. Should so be my tone on social?

I love this question (pretentious sentence structure aside). I think every nonprofit should be asking this. It’s not an easy question to answer.

Your nonprofit serves a serious cause. The cause is no laughing matter. It could be a matter of life and death. Your cause’s emotional complexion is sincere and/or perhaps tracks sorrowful. Should my tone on social reflect this? Are there principles I can follow when determining my nonprofit’s tone?

What principles can my nonprofit follow when setting our tone on social?

However you choose to answer this question, there is one thing you absolutely shouldn’t do that we see often. Do not sanitize your social media posts of any emotion to save your followers from the depth of your cause’s emotional intensity. Let’s start there.

Your social media tone should have an emotional complexion, absolutely.

What does this mean? Remember, you’re competing for heart strings, for a slice of a person’s mental and emotional energy. Allowing the depth of your connection to your cause, and the connection everyone affected by your cause shares, to shine through is how you do that. Content with a higher emotional intensity has a higher potential for virality. Do not sterilize your feed.

If you’re attempting to raise money for cancer research, do not simply ask for money for cancer research. Tell stories, whether they be of loss or triumph. Remember that triumph can be a powerful part of your nonprofit’s emotional repertoire.

Focus on triumph.

Where there is the potential for sorrow, there is also the potential for triumph. Find the triumphs, however small, and get them in front of your audience. Triumphant stories are an amazing and positive way to push content with a higher emotional intensity, the type of content that tugs at heart strings, without asking your followers to delve into a matrix of emotions they may shy from.

It’s okay to be silly.

Humor is ever a good idea. Just because your cause is a serious one, doesn’t mean you need to be serious all the time. We wouldn’t expect someone suffering to accept no respite. Like anything else, there’s a breath. You’ve spent so much time putting together materials explaining your cause, why it’s right, why it matters. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to help your followers breathe. This is a great way to show your followers, you’re real people, and that your nonprofit is not all about donations.

Be human.

Speak to your followers conversationally. This is one way to start a conversation in the comments. Your social media efforts shouldn’t all be about promotion. People are much more likely to interact with your nonprofit if you’re authentic. Don’t just pound your followers with articles, events, and donation opportunities. Converse with them. Get them talking among themselves.

Don’t beat a dead horse.

Posting the same content over and over does not grow your following! It does not engage your current following. It does not illicit sharing. I recognize it feels like you’re doing your due diligence but the true due diligence is in the creation of content, not in the regimented posting of content, or the frequency at which you post content.

In Summary:

Ultimately, the tone of your social media presence is for you to decide but however it comes to be, develop it deliberately. Your due diligence isn’t daily posting on social media, it’s designing your tone and developing content inline with that tone. (You should be posting daily, though. 😲)

I’ll finish with this: If you’re responsible for your nonprofit’s social media presence, if asked to, could you concisely describe your tone?

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Matthew Praetzel

Thinker / Programmer / Late night contemplator More about this guy

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