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How to use Twitter as a small charity

6 minute read

As a charity, your primary concern is keeping enough money coming in to be able to continue your important work. Today, a crucial part of that fundraising is establishing an online presence and using it to tell your story and spread the word about why your work matters.

Social media has huge potential for raising awareness, and today I’m looking at the part Twitter can play in bringing in vital donations and meeting other kinds of goals your charity might have. Research shows that “55% of people who engage with nonprofits on Twitter end up taking some sort of action”, so keep reading to find out how your charity can make the most of this platform.

Twitter for charities: the pros and cons

Twitter isn’t necessarily the best platform for every charity, so think carefully about whether it will help further your aims before throwing lots of time and resource at it. Some of the pros and cons for small charities include:

Pros

  • Twitter gives you the potential to get your message in front of huge new audiences, raising awareness far and wide
  • You can use it to drive donations and promote fundraising events and campaigns
  • It’s a great platform for connecting with influencers, who can amplify your message by sharing it with their large followings
  • Tweeting regularly keeps you at the forefront of people’s minds

Cons

  • Building up a Twitter following, and then managing an active Twitter account, takes time and effort; the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. If your time resource is limited, getting your Twitter account to the point where it’s actively helping your charity could be challenging

Decided that Twitter is definitely the right platform for your charity? Then let’s look at what you need to do to get your new account up and running.

Getting started with Twitter

Defining your goals

Start by being clear about what you want to get from Twitter, and perhaps write down a few goals to work towards. This helps ensure that the content you’re posting is working towards a defined purpose, and gives some direction to your activities on the platform. Do you want more volunteers, for example, or are you mostly seeking to boost your donations? Are you looking to build relationships with potential big donors, or do you want to use Twitter to get media attention to your cause? The answer might be all the above, but knowing what your aims are means you’ll be better able to tailor your tweets towards achieving those goals.

Account setup

Setting up a Twitter account is straightforward and simply involves choosing a username and filling in a few details for your profile; click here to get started. Your username should be your charity’s name, or as close to it as possible if your preferred name is already taken.

You have 160 characters for your ‘bio’, so use it to summarise what you do in a way that anyone clicking on your profile can immediately understand. Try to keep the look and feel of your profile in keeping with that of your website; images for your profile and cover photo should ideally match your branding so that you present a consistent image online.

Once your account is up and running, the next thing you’ll want to do is follow some other accounts. A good place to start is to follow people and organisations who are prominent in your cause, along with people who follow charities devoted to similar causes. You may need to work hard in the beginning to build up your following, as it takes some perseverance; try following a few new people each day to start gaining traction.

You’re now ready to start tweeting!

What to post

You’d be surprised by how much you can do within the confines of Twitter’s 280-character limit. Here are some of the different options you have for sharing content on Twitter for your charity:

  • Include images, videos or graphics in your tweets – these get more engagement (see below)
  • String multiple tweets into a ‘thread’ to tell a story (just click “Add Tweet” once you’ve added the first in the series of tweets)
  • Link to new content on your website, such as blog posts or news stories (as in this example from Aerobility)
  • Reply to tweets from others, retweet them, or retweet them with an added comment of your own – we’ll look more at engaging with others on Twitter shortly

A word of advice before I go any further: don’t just tweet for the sake of it, and without putting thought into what your followers are actually interested in. You’ll have more success with Twitter by posting the kind of content that your target audience wants to engage with, so take a look at other charities’ Twitter accounts in similar fields to yours and see what kinds of tweets get the most retweets and mentions.

According to research, “Tweets with images receive 18% more click throughs, 89% more likes, and 150% more retweets.” However, working out what kind of images to post isn’t always straightforward, as some charities’ work lends itself much better to visual storytelling than others.

For example, if you’re a horse sanctuary like Redwings, you’ll have lots of potential for posting nice photos. If your charity tackles a highly sensitive and difficult issue such as domestic violence, however, deciding what to post is considerably more challenging. In such situations, you may instead prefer to focus on the positive work your charity is doing and on sharing success stories. You could also create content to help raise awareness, like this graphic from charity Tiny Tickers: 

Tiny Tickers Charity Tweet

Getting social

Using Twitter as a charity shouldn’t be just about soliciting donations. Social media is called social media for a reason – it’s about being social! To use Twitter to its full potential, it’s worth spending the time engaging with people, rather than making all your tweets one-way. These are some of the ways you can do this:

  • Reply to tweets you receive – it will mean a lot to your followers, who may well have personal reasons for supporting your work
  • Reply to, like and retweet other people’s tweets on relevant subjects – engage with others and you’ll find they engage with you
  • Ask questions of your followers – not only does this encourage engagement, but you’ll generate more content in the form of replies you can retweet
  • Join in conversations – try searching relevant hashtags or trending topics to do with your cause, and either contribute your own opinion or take the time to agree with someone else’s point of view
  • Do a regular Twitter search for mentions of your charity and retweet, reply and/or thank the people who are taking the time to tweet about you, as the Streatham Space Project does in this tweet:

Streatham Space Proj Tweet

  • Ask for retweets to help spread the word, as Tiny Tickers did in this tweet. Research has shown that people are 12 times more likely to retweet something if you ask them to.

Mentions are great for reaching and connecting with influencers or celebrities who may support your cause; you mention someone by putting an @ symbol before their username. For example, this tweet from 52 Lives responds to an article by author Matt Haig, mentioning his Twitter handle so that it may get noticed by him and his followers. Of course, if you have any notable people who already support your work, get them to tweet about you and ask them to mention your username so that their followers can start following you.

Hashtags make a word or phrase (no spaces or punctuation between words) searchable – just put a # symbol in front of it, such as #charity or #nonprofit. Make up your own to go with your brand, as The Literacy Pirates have done, or create them for fundraising campaigns. It’s worth keeping an eye out for campaign hashtags from bigger charities, too, as this can be a great way of finding new people to follow and contributing to conversations yourself. You can also take part in initiatives such as #charitytuesday to get your work into the spotlight, as Fly2Help does here:

fly2help Tweet

Polls can be added to a tweet and used in a number of different creative ways to encourage engagement; you can find more details here.

Twitter Analytics, accessed via your profile, lets you see engagement stats for your tweets. Monitoring the success of different kinds of content will tell you what’s working best, so you can give your followers more of what they want.

Advertising on Twitter

Finally, as with other social networks, you’re able to advertise on Twitter using what are called ‘promoted tweets’. Twitter Ads boost your tweet and allow you to target relevant audiences, making it more likely that you’ll be seen by people who will be interested in what you have to say. Find out more about advertising on Twitter here.

Hopefully you’ve now got plenty of inspiration for what to do with your new Twitter account, but for even more advice on using this platform to promote your charity, you’ll find a few extra ideas in some of these other articles:

Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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