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Study Reveals: 13 Best Practices Of Social Media Implemented By The Top 200 US Charities

I have noticed in both observing and working with non profits that their uptake and utilization of social media is creative, innovative and extensive and when I came upon this study by  the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research who had recently completed (June 2009) one of the first statistically significant studies on the usage of social media by United States charities that my anecdotal suspicions were supported by empirical evidence. 

The new study compares organizational adoption of social media in 2007 and 2008 by the 200 largest charities in the United States as compiled annually by Forbes Magazine. For complete details on Forbes Magazine’s list of the largest charities, please visit their website at Forbes.com.  They are some of the best-known charities in the country including the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Catholic Charities USA, Habitat for Humanity International and Easter Seals. The participating non-profits have headquarters in every major US city including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco. They were asked detailed questions about the organizations’ familiarity with, usage of, monitoring of and attitude towards six common forms of social media (blogs, wikis, podcasts, online video, message boards and social networking).

So what are some of the best practices and uses of social media as displayed by the top 200 US NGO’s.

13 Best Practices Of  Social Media Implemented By the Top 200 US Charities

This new research shows that charitable organizations are still outpacing the business world and academia in their use of social media. In the latest study (2008) a remarkable eighty-nine percent of charitable organizations are using some form of social media including blogs, podcasts, message boards, social networking, video blogging and wikis. 

  1. Blogging is the leading social media channel: 
    • A majority (57%) of the organizations are blogging versus 41% by Universities and Colleges, 39% by the Top 500 fastest growing companies and 16% by the Fortune 500 .
    • 52% of the respondents to the 2008 survey still without a blog said they planned to add one in the future, making blogs the most popular tool now and for the foreseeable future. 
    • When asked if they felt their blogs were successful, approximately 90% of charities with blogs said yes. This finding is also consistent with studies in business and academia that have consistently shown those using social media are satisfied and feel it provides positive results
  2. Vital for fundraising:  Forty-five percent of those studied report social media is very important to their fundraising strategy. While these organizations are best known for their non-profit status and their fundraising campaigns, they demonstrate an acute, and still growing, awareness of the importance of Web 2.0 strategies in meeting their objectives. 
  3. Video is now one of the core features of social media: The use of video in their blogs jumped from 40% in the 2007 study to 65% the following year.
  4. Social networking site use is now considered mainstream not optional: Social networking up 47%
  5. WordPress as a platform for the blog is dominant:  Twenty-six percent of those with blogs are using WordPress software as a platform
  6. Twitter is used extensively 
  7. YouTube video uploads are prominent.
  8. Allowing the accepting of comments is almost universal: also known as allowing conversation (85% of those charities with blogs accepted comments and 88% in 2008)
  9. RSS feed use is considered a vital feature of a blog:  (57% in 2007 compared to 67% in 2008) Note: This simplifies the blogosphere for readers who may want to keep up with a certain conversation or be informed of new information without having to check the blog of interest every day to see if there is something new.
  10. Email subscriptions is Crucial on your blog: now in the majority (23% in 2007 compared to 56% in 2008) 
  11. Promoting the blog is an essential activity: The promotion was email, press release and newsletters in 2007 , with 2008 seeing the use of  social networking to promote their blog
  12. Success is mainly measured by the number of hits or comments they receive on their website or blog: Also in 2008 many reported donations coming in as a result of social media communications as an additional form of measurement.
  13. Monitoring of Social Media is considered important by the majority of  Non Profits: They are listening to what’s being said about them online. Sixty-six percent of respondents in 2007 and 75% in 2008 report they monitor the Internet for buzz, posts, conversations and news about their institution. Most of these organizations realize the importance of knowing what conversation might occur around their cause, their name, their location or constituents. How do they monitor buzz about themselves or their causes.
    • In 2007, 42% did searches manually using basic search engines like Google and appropriate key words.
    • In 2008, that dropped to 36% while the number of charities automating their searches climbed from 34% to 42%. Google alerts were the most popular automated searches.

Note: When comparing charities with other sectors also using social media and monitoring their names, brands or products, these non-profits again stand out. In 2008, 54% of US colleges and universities monitored buzz online about their school, 60% of the Inc. 500 monitored their brands or name and 75% of the top charities monitored their names, causes or other pertinent information. This group is both active and sophisticated in their use of social media.  


This new study, looking at social media usage among the nonprofit sector, reveals that social media has become an incredibly important part of the communication strategy for US charities. The largest non-profits are continuing to outpace businesses and even academic institutions in their familiarity, use, and monitoring activity. These top organizations have found a new and exciting way to win the hearts (and maybe the dollars) of potential donors.

So are you practicing and implementing social media best practice in your organisation?

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • These are not “best practices” at all. “YouTube uploads are prominent” is not a best practice. I’d allow them to be called “key findings” maybe, but really they’re just results of a survey about usage. Find a study with specifics about how these platforms are being used to effectively meet specific goals, and then you can call it “best practices.”

  • rokensa

    Best Practices, Good practices, Key findings… call them anything you want, I appreciate that you take the time to share knowledge. Thank you Jeff

  • I agree – semantics aside, it’s an interesting post. I’m amazed that NCO’s are capitalising the blog phenomena better than the business sector. Thanks for the post.

  • This information will assist the non profits that I work with to incorporate social media further in their endeavors. Thanks for the article and for some organizations that are looking to grow the information will be considered Best Practices.

  • Thanks for the information, Jeff. It encourages less nationally known NPOs who are just begining to use social media to continue putting marketing effort there and to grow their presence by noting value and response received.

  • Thanks for the report. Interesting data. I would also note that there are many analytic tools that can help determine the ranking of a blog such as Tweetlyzer (for microblogs and blogs) and Google analytics.

  • Jeff, I would like to “re-print” this article on my blog Nonprofit Conversation. Let me know. thanks!!! Bunnie Riedel

  • Hey Jeff, this might sound a little cheeky but we’re an NGO that is trying to increase it’s public profile in order to help better develop our community projects led by volunteers and hope you don’t mind us posting here with our pot linked back to our site. We are only looking to increase how many volunteers we get – we are not looking to become big time or anything. We like our grassroots work and hope to only generate enough that we are not haemorrhaging the few donations we get.

    We see many other organisations use blackhat SEO methods which we feel are immoral and unfair as it not only clogs up the web like spam clogs up email but it also misrepresents how good they are at doing what they are suppose to do: Community development work.

    Technorati, blogging and the like are new to us and we’re wondering if you know of anything that is effective, non-wasting and worthy of hard work that could increase our ranking on the major search engines?

    We are trying to be as upfront as possible with people and let them know what is what in our area and I’m sure quality content over time will be a winner – I’m just curious if you know of anything that might help in an immediate sense.

    On the off-chance you reply to this a big thanks in advance and regardless of anything have a happy new year when it comes in!

    • If you are looking at something in an immediate sense I would be using Twitter to announce new blog posts or point people to your website Cheers Jeff

  • Thanks Jeff!!

    That was certainly a quick reply. I figured the holiday period would have it be a week or so. I’ll certainly be checking in on your future postings (and learning from your past postings) as you really seem to know your stuff.

    Thanks again!

  • I wonder if they rank so high because those who work with the organizations entered that arena with a heart to help others, rather than profits. They believe in what they’re doing and it makes it easier to be authentically engaging and encouraging of those they interact with. Seems to me that is one of the toughest barriers to businesses attempting to get a presence in Social Media…. balancing a desire to market with a pure love of the people they’re interacting with and the cause they serve.

  • I wonder if they rank so high because those who work with the organizations entered that arena with a heart to help others, rather than profits. They believe in what they’re doing and it makes it easier to be authentically engaging and encouraging of those they interact with. Seems to me that is one of the toughest barriers to businesses attempting to get a presence in Social Media…. balancing a desire to market with a pure love of the people they’re interacting with and the cause they serve.