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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. 

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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?

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