Social media is part of everyday life. There’s no avoiding it. Whether you favor Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn, it’s likely you use social media daily (or hourly).

Many nonprofit leaders struggle to determine how and when to use social media to promote their organization. The impact or the return-on-investment from time spent on social media are not always immediately clear.

If you’re working on a capital  and wondering how to use social media to promote your campaign, you’re not alone. Social media has mixed results at best and is downright confusing at worst.

So, let’s clarify some of the issues.

Avoid These 3 Social Media Mistakes During Your Capital Campaign

Many nonprofit leaders make mistakes when it comes to promoting a capital campaign on social media. Here are three of the most common mistakes.

1. Asking for Gifts (And Announcing Your Goal) Too Early

Most nonprofit leaders are eager to announce their campaign goal and ask for money on social media at the beginning of the campaign. They think that the more people who know about their campaign and the sooner they ask, the more they’ll raise. That seems to make sense, but it isn’t true.

Campaign strategy dictates a long “quiet” phase during which you raise the biggest gifts in a personal one-on-one way. Social media is an impersonal “one-to-many” approach, just the opposite of what’s needed.

Announcing a campaign goal early locks you in and prevents flexibility later in the campaign. If you haven’t publicized your campaign goal, you can change it to reflect your success or lack of success in the early quiet phase.  So, instead of announcing a specific goal, play it cool and even include some suspense in your messaging.

Share messages like… “Coming Soon” and “Stay Tuned.” Generate excitement without giving away all the details.

2. Not Using Photos and Video to Tell a Compelling Story

Social media is a visual medium. Viewers are more likely to pay attention (and you’re more likely to get noticed) through all the virtual noise when you use photos or video.

You’ll want to focus on telling a compelling story by using visual media. Posts without photos or videos get scrolled past, because of all the compelling content above and below.

Note that you don’t have to create highly-produced videos or professional quality photos. Pull out your smart phone and snap away. Julia Campbell on this week’s Toolkit Talks provided an example of an after school program sharing photos of kids on a basketball court, sitting on the floor playing Uno, and doing their homework. These activities may seem mundane to your team, but it’s what your program is all about and they tell the story of who you are.

3. Expecting to Attract Lots of New Donors and Dollars

If you expect your campaign to generate dollars and donors on social media, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed. Perhaps you’re dreaming of the ice bucket challenge. Viral campaigns are one-in-a-million and shouldn’t be counted on to raise big bucks for your campaign.

The most successful fundraising efforts on social media surround natural disasters and those organizations with broad appeal. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than a handful of new donors or dollars towards your campaign from a social media effort.

Use social media to raise awareness about your organization and your project towards the end of your campaign in the public phase. With lots of prodding and a little luck, your board members and other volunteers will help share your story and generate some buzz.

A Real-World Take on Successful Social Media Gifts

Have you ever seen a crowd sourcing campaign without any gifts? For example:

Our neighbor’s daughter needs your help to pay for surgery after a bad car accident!

But the creator of the appeal hasn’t even made a gift. The dollars raised to goal are zero.

I cringe when I see these campaigns because I know they are likely to fail. Hardly anyone is willing to make the first gift and it’s difficult to imagine that they’ll raise the money they seek.

People Often Want Social Proof Before Donating

When people are asked to give a small gift toward a large goal their thinking goes like this. “My small gift won’t make much of a difference, so why bother? I wonder why no one else has given?”  No one wants to make a small, early gift that seems inconsequential in comparison to a big goal. And no one wants to give when it looks as though the campaign is going to fail.

On the other hand, if you see lots of gifts and traction toward the goal, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and help get there. It feels as though your gift, regardless of the size will make a difference!

That’s why giving on social media belongs in the public phase comes at the end of your campaign when you can announce you’re close to the goal and you need everyone to chip in to get you over the finish line.

Bottom Line on Social Media for Capital Campaigns

You can use social media throughout your campaign to tell stories and generate excitement about the project. But wait until the end of your campaign (final 15% or so) to ask for gift on social media. And don’t expect lots of new donors or dollars to be raised in that way.

Remember — social media one small part of a much bigger fundraising effort.


  1. Kent Stroman

    Great insight. Spot on!

    Thanks Amy. 👍

  2. George Boodrookas

    Great advice. Thanks Amy.

  3. Morgan Kalk

    Thank you for this, Amy!


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