A Nonprofit's Guide to Crushing it on Instagram

February 22, 2018 Emelie Oberg

When it comes to social media, charities tend to shy away from Instagram, preferring to focus their efforts on the tried and tested platforms of Facebook and Twitter to communicate with supporters. But we've got news for you folks: overlook Instagram at your peril. Here are just a few reasons why you need to board the Instagram train:

    1. It's got the numbers. In the last few years, numbers on the channel have exploded. Instagram now has over 800 million active monthly users - double the size of Twitter's user base. Of that, Australia has a staggering 9 million users on the platform.
    2. It's users are more engaged. Instagram users are decidedly more active than those of other social media platforms. They check it more often and are more likely to like and comment on posts. What's more, they use the platform not just as a means of following their favourite users or brands, but also as a discovery tool, searching for new accounts to follow through the use of hashtags.

  1. It has a strong millennial skew. As many of you will know, a key challenge for charities is finding ways to recruit new, younger supporters to replace an ageing donor database. Given that the majority of Instagram users are aged between 18 and 29, the platform offers huge potential to reach millennials and put your cause on their radar.

Six ways to use Instagram to promote your cause

Instagram is first and foremost a visual channel, so it goes without saying that powerful images that tell a story are key. But that doesn't mean you have to commission expensive professional photography to make an impact. What is important is that you have a clear visual style and point of view. The most successful Instagram accounts don't try to be all things to all people - they decide what they're about and focus on doing that really well. Here are a few more pointers to get you on the right track:

Don't be afraid to use humour. While your message may be a serious one, using humour to deliver it is a great way to cut through the clutter. UK charity Dog's Trust has created a highly engaged fanbase on Instagram thanks to its comical posts of dogs looking silly. Likewise, UK breast cancer charity Coppa Feel uses cheeky visuals and copy to communicate a more sombre message.

Lead by example. Showcase the efforts of your star supporters by posting images of them doing their thing. Don't have great shots on file? Repost images from your supporters' own accounts (with permission) to inspire others to do the same.

Use hashtags to reach a wider audience. One of the biggest benefits of using Instagram is the way users utilise hashtags to explore and discover new content. Creating your own hashtags is a great start, but don't just use them in isolation. Combining your own tags with popular (like #givingback and #dogood) will get your post in front of more people.

Make good use of captions. Enhance your image with copy that elaborates on the story and provides extra context. Doctors Without Borders do this particularly well: they post powerful images of their doctors and nurses doing great work, then use the caption for storytelling. You have 2200 characters to play with - so make them count.

Inspire direct action. Instagram isn't just a recruiting ground for new supporters: it can also provide a direct line of communication between you and the people you're seeking to influence. Use it to inspire direct action or change behaviour (e.g. encouraging a health check) by designing copy-driven visuals that communicate statistics or a short but impactful message.


Use Instagram's business tools. Any organisation on Insta can use the Instagram for Business tool. It's totally free and provides you with analytics as well as a contact button. Another nifty option if you've got budget is to boost your visibility via Instagram ads, which neatly sidestep the longstanding issue of not being able to include hyperlinks in posts. Instagram ads appear as 'sponsored' posts in people's newsfeeds and include a link which sends users straight to your website or campaign page. Just like Facebook, the pricing is scalable, and the audience targeting is highly refined. As if that's not enough to keep you going, we've also compiled a quick-fire list of Instagram do's and don'ts to keep in your back pocket!


  • Experiment with video. (Make sure it doesn't exceed 60 seconds).
  • Engage influencers on the platform and encourage them to share your message.
  • Curate content from other feeds - as long as you credit them and ask permission first.
  • Use Instagram Stories. Stories disappear after 24 hours, making them perfect for events and they also appear in chronological order at the top of your followers' accounts.


  • Just make it all about you. Comment and engage on other feeds to build an engaged community and network.
  • Spam your followers. Three or Four posts per week is ideal.
  • Overlook your profile. Make sure it's compelling and contains the right info. Choose a powerful profile image that's still recognisable when viewed on a small screen.

Want to know more about using social media to promote your cause? Check out our top tips on Facebook for Charities here.

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