5 Core Competencies of Effective Nonprofit Social Media Managers

5 Core Competencies of Effective Nonprofit Social Media Managers

Julia Claire Campbell Fundraising, Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Strategy Leave a Comment

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Data shows that over 50% of nonprofits are active on at least two social media channels.

With over 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the US, that’s a pretty significant amount of posting, tweeting, and ‘gramming. 

Of course, being “active” is one thing – but are nonprofits truly leveraging the power and potential of these channels to get results? 

We don’t know the answer to this question, because many nonprofits aren’t using social media strategically, nor are they measuring what they are doing there. 

A recent HubSpot survey found that while almost half (48%) of nonprofits believe that social media is very valuable, a vast majority (67%) have no social media strategy, policies, or goals documented. Yikes. 

What’s even more troubling is that while 38% of nonprofits spend 2 hours a week on their social media channels, over half (53%) are not measuring their social media activity. That’s two hours, presumably spent spinning wheels, chasing tails – wasted!  

This comes down to capacity and training. Even if it’s not a full-time job, there are certain core competencies necessary to effectively manage social media for a nonprofit. 

I’m working on the new version of Social Media for Social Good Academy, the very first online training course for nonprofit social media managers.

So what exactly is a Nonprofit Social Media Manager?

Anyone at the organization that creates content for and manages the social media accounts for the nonprofit, full-time or part-time or volunteers. 

Here are my recommended five core competencies of effective nonprofit social media managers, and I will cover all of these in the upcoming training course.

Sign up to get notified when the doors open to Social Media for Social Good Academy 2.0!

1) Nonprofit social media managers are visionaries. 

Effective nonprofit social media managers are visionaries, and they get people to support their visions. 

This goes beyond spouting off data points. While tons of data is available on how many people use social media, the demographics, the most popular platforms, and so on and so forth, data alone does not a compelling case make. 

In order to get buy-in and support for your social media plans, you have to bring people along to your way of thinking. 

Communicate your strategic vision clearly and frequently. Put it in terms that others can understand and embrace. 

Match your social media plan to the priorities of the organization as a whole. Social media should not be an end in and of itself – it should be a tool in a nonprofit toolbox, a means to an end. 

Using examples, clearly explain the ways in which social media can grow the nonprofit and take it to the next level. 

Paint a picture of the future that you seek. 

Show, don’t tell: Here’s where we are today. Here is what it will look like tomorrow (and why that’s important). 

In order to lead change at an organization that is stuck in the status quo and afraid of the new, you must be able to tell a story of the future that you envision. 

Back up the vision with a workable plan and budget.

It’s one thing to say “we can do all this great stuff” and quite another to say “I think we can double our revenue this year but doubling down on Facebook fundraising, building a community on Instagram, and eliminating Twitter. Here is how we will do it, how much time it will take, and how much I estimate it will cost.” 

Nonprofit social media managers have to continually plan for the world of tomorrow rather than react to the reality of today.  

2) They don’t throw the baby away with the bath water. 

To be honest, I never really understood that saying, but I take it to mean that you don’t eliminate something good when trying to improve or get rid of something that’s not working. 

Effective nonprofit social media managers can explain that they don’t want to throw away what’s working just because it doesn’t happen on Twitter. 

They want to enhance, augment, and GROW what’s working, using modern tools! 

This is where a lot of traditionalists get confused. They hear “start a Facebook Fundraiser” and what they interpret that to mean “let’s get rid of direct mail and events and just replace it with a donate button!”

This is not the case. If your signature events are working, consider using paid social ads to get more participation. 

If direct mail is working, consider molding the appeal letter story into an Instagram post, with a call to donate inside the platform. 

Social media should always integrate into existing marketing and fundraising plans. 

3) They embrace data but don’t worship it. 

The ability to measure, analyze, and improve are all key skills for any nonprofit social media manager. 

Whether it’s simply looking at the most popular Facebook post of the week or populating an Excel spreadsheet of metrics, effective social media managers measure what they are doing so they can see trends, and so they can iterate and tweak. 

So much is being written about data, and being data-driven, but often data for data’s sake is worthless. (Say data again. Data.) 


Nonprofit social media managers that get results ask themselves: 

What are the metrics we can analyze that will help us determine if we are hitting our targets and achieving our overall goals? 

What are we going to DO with this data? 

Are we going to use it to improve? 

To make our case? To spend our money more wisely? 

Spending some time crafting a measurement plan for your nonprofit social media work will help ensure that you are working on the right things.  

4) They are ninjas of time management.

We ALL get overwhelmed from time to time. It’s unavoidable. 

But effective nonprofit social media managers understand that saying yes to something means saying no to something else. 

If you have any discretion over your time (and I would hope that you do!), you can design your own day. You can decide where to put your focus. 

Social media management requires a commitment of time. End of story. It must be done with intention and persistence to see any real traction. 

You cannot shoehorn it in for five minutes a day between putting out fires and dealing with other crises that arise. It won’t work, and you will just get frustrated. 

There are four main areas of social media management. I recommend dividing your time as such (we will talk about this more in depth in the course): 

Research 10%

Content creation 60%

Interaction with community 20%

Measurement and analysis 10%.

If you have one hour per week to dedicate, you can see that you will only be able to manage one platform, if that. The more time you have, the more you can do. This is just a fact of life. 

IMPORTANT NOTE (for the skeptics out there): I’m not saying to throw out your other responsibilities. It may be that this is not the season for you to focus on social media. That’s completely acceptable, and completely fine! 

The key is recognizing that you do not have the time (right now) to dedicate to this, and not blaming the social media channels themselves for your lack of results. 

5) They embrace creativity and risk-taking. 

By far the number one question I see on social media and in my inbox is:

“How do we get more engagement on our channels? We feel like no one is listening.”

The hard truth is – to get engagement, you have to be ENGAGING!

Seth Godin says to be remarkable, you have to do something worth remarking on. 

We can’t force people to pay attention to us, to click on our links, to like our stuff, to share it. 

There has to be something in it for them. 

Effective nonprofit social media managers constantly strive to be surprising, innovative, interesting, and relevant in their posts. 

They are laser-focused on what their audience wants to see from them, not on their own promotional agenda. Promotions on social media will not work unless it’s interesting and relevant to the audience. 

Do something surprising. 

Package what you do in a creative, unique way

Give it a creative spin.

This is what it takes. 

Have some fun!!!  

BONUS! Successful nonprofit social media managers work the plan and don’t get sidetracked easily. 

If you’ve read James Clear’s Atomic Habits (which I highly recommend!), you know the mantra:  “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Persistence and consistency are the key to getting results on social media – but also in marketing itself. 

You have to consistently show up and provide value in exchange for your audience’s attention and time. 

Even when you don’t have a specific call-to-action, a petition to sign, a donation to ask for. 

How are you showing up when you don’t want anything from your audience?

How are you showing up, providing information, answering questions, replying to comments, when you aren’t asking for donations? 

Effective nonprofit social media managers don’t just have lofty goals.

They have a plan and a process by which to achieve them. 

Thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe to the waitlist for Social Media for Social Good Academy 2.0 – new and improved for fall 2020! 

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