Learn why you should use Twitter for your non-profit organization


Twitter has become one of the most successful ways for non-profit organizations to connect with and empower their followers.  I was surprised to learn about this because as I have mentioned before, I haven’t really spent much time using social media on a personal level.  After ready success stories about many non-profit organizations, it seems that using Twitter is one of the most efficient social media tools to mobilize a large group of individuals and organizations to express their opinions, discuss their experiences, share knowledge and build connections.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) titled “Are Public Health Organizations Tweeting to the Choir? Understanding Local Health Department Twitter Fellowship” does a fine job of explaining how US health departments have been using social media in an effort to inform and educate the public about health.  Considering that communication with constituents about health risks is a requirement, non-profit public health organizations have realized how using a social media tool such as Twitter could help to meet this requirement.  Not only does Twitter allow an organization to reach a large group of people in real-time at a very low cost, but it helps to increase connectivity with and between other organizations.

So you ask how popular Twitter is in the non-profit world?  Here are the stats to give you an idea…


As you can see, Twitter ranks as the third most widely used social media tool by top charities and non-profits.  So if you already have set up a YouTube and Facebook account for your organization, great job! You’re on the right track.  Twitter would be the next step in your social media process map.  YouTube is considered the “go-to” for videos and slideshows about your organization and Facebook is considered the champion at making your presence known to hundreds of millions of people which then enables your fans not only to support your organization but each other.

So where does Twitter fit in?  This social media tool has a very unique niche.  It is very different from the other two most popular social media tools because it allows you to “microblog”.  In a society in which we feel over-stimulated with the constant influx of information, Twitter helps to alleviate the burden by providing a platform in which organizations can deliver tidbits of interesting, relevant and important information or better yet, by delivering information one bite at a time.  Whereas Facebook may create more of an environment for socializing, Twitter is meant to deliver short bursts of information in blurbs that are only 140 characters or less.  It’s important to try to connect with others which can be done by retweeting or mentioning their Tweets.  If you’re not familiar with these terms, not to worry.  Twitter has some great resources online that you can check out to help you get up-to-speed.

So here’s a few tips to get you started:

1. Enjoy the experimentation phase – don’t give up too soon!

This is a common mistake that many non-profits have made in the past.  It’s important to take the time to get used to Twitter and learn how to use it, finding your Twitter voice and learning how to engage with your online community (by tweeting about others’ content, following other organizations in a 1:1 ratio, tweeting at the appropriate frequency etc).  Heather Manfield’s book “A How-to Guide for Nonprofits – Social Media for Social Good” is an excellent resource that outlines 11 best practices for using Twitter.

2. Educate your organization about Twitter

Twitter has provided an excellent online resource to help you learn about how to build a cross-functional team so there are a number of skilled employees who can keep adding relevant content to your Twitter account.  This helps to distribute the burden of the upkeep associated with delivering relevant information using an attention-grabbing format in  a timely manner.

3. Learn from the champions 

The top 3 non-profit organizations that have the largest number of followers on Twitter are the following:

1) TEDTalks – 6.38 million followersScreen Shot 2015-07-26 at 3.56.02 PM

2) United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – 4.47 millions followersScreen Shot 2015-07-26 at 3.53.49 PM

3) National Public Radio (NPR) – 3.77 million followersScreen Shot 2015-07-26 at 3.58.01 PM

Check out the Twitter profiles from these non-profits (and others) as they serve as guiding examples in the pursuit of Twitter success for your own organization.  The full list of the 50 top nonprofits on Twitter based on total Twitter followers can be found here.

In closing..

Findings of the study mentioned above include a success story from the Chicago Department of Public Health in which Twitter (@ChiPublicHealth) was used to interact with local individuals.  Dr. Julie Morita communicated directly with followers via Twitter chat to answer questions about the flu using the hashtag #FluChicago when news coverage of the flu was increasing.


Here’s a picture of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanual participating in the #FluChicago 2013 Twitter chat about flu prevention with @ChiPublicHealth during flu season.

Another success story comes from the local health department at River Health (@BearRiverHealth) in Utah in which a health practitioner, Jill Parker, commented that “not only does [using Twitter] allow us an opportunity to share information, it allows us to communicate in a new way with the communities that we serve together as a state. For example, when we launch an immunization campaign we now have the ability to share the same message seamlessly across our entire state through Twitter and Facebook. We share one another’s posts, comment on status, and generally connect”. The active use of Twitter resulted in this Utah community (population of 163,836 in 2010 in the jurisdiction of Bear River) to reach more than 3200 followers.  This is equivalent to  more than 5 times the average number of followers for a local health department.

Hopefully this gives you the courage to give Twitter a try! From the looks of it, this could change the way your organization is represented by the media because you have more control of what information is being delivered to the general public.  Furthermore, using Twitter presents an opportunity to practice how to succinctly deliver important information; you need to think in terms of sentences (not essays).  Microblogging is a great way to deliver information #1Bite-at-a-time!


8 thoughts on “Learn why you should use Twitter for your non-profit organization

  1. Very interesting post . It’s great to know how non profit organizations benefit from using social media . And I agree with you on not giving up soon . It’s important to take the time to get used to Twitter and any other platform and learn how to use them and how to engage with our online community .

    • Thanks Melody! I too felt quite inspired after learning about how nonprofit orgs use social media to create a positive change. And the volume of followers (i.e. Unicef with almost 4.5 million followers) shows that this way of communicating with the public is well-received!

  2. I like your post Shannon,
    We both have used similar topics .
    I agree with you ! Social Media sites such as Twitter can have a significant impact on donor cultivation and fundraising results.

    According to a study by Blackboud , overall, participants [in peer-to-peer fundraising efforts] that adopted integrated Social Media tools increased their fundraising [results] by as much as 40 percent compared to their peers who weren’t using the available online tools.”
    I found the following articles about how nonprofit organizations can get started with Social Media. Four particularly useful articles about getting started with Twitter are:
    •“Tweeting for a Cause: A Nonprofit Guide to Getting Started with Twitter” by Sumac (courtesy of Jenny Henry, @SumacTweets) .
    •“Here’s My Twitter Plan” by Ephraim Gopin (@fundraisinisfun).
    •“Here’s My Twitter Fine Fifty” also by Gopin. It’s a list of 50 must-Follow people and/or companies on Twitter.
    •“Facebook and Twitter for Nonprofits” by Leah Eustace at Good Works (@LeahEustace).

    • Shannon,

      The visuals are fantastic ! There are not only poignant but well placed and augment the conversation. I particularly like the statistics that you placed above the various resources. It provides the reader with a sense of significance and relevance as it relates to social media.
      I read how the Chicago Dept. of Public Health, as you referenced, is using Twitter and was, candidly, astonished at it’s impact. The inter-jurisdictional cross collaboration is what I found the most intriguing. Thanks for a very informative post.

      • Hey Mark, thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed the visuals and the statistics.

        I too was really blown away by the Chicago Public Health Department’s success with using Twitter to prevent misinformation from being spread by educating the public and also, to collaborate with others in the community, as you pointed out. I think it’s so important to learn from each other and with the use of public platforms, such as Twitter, it’s easy to search for examples of good practice and successful public health campaigns!

    • Hi Arash,

      Thanks for your comments! I looked at your blog post as well and really enjoyed reading it, especially since you included the hilarious comic strip image!! I think the 7 tips that you outlined would be very helpful to a nonprofit organization that’s getting started with/thinking about using Twitter. I think that you also did a good job of pointing out that Twitter users need to invest more time into acquainting themselves with the tool before they can truly be successful. I think a common mistake that we make (or at least I can say this for myself), is that we often don’t read the “instruction manual” and therefore, don’t know even the basics of how to use a new type of software or product. Laying out these 7 easy steps is a great way to guide people without bogging them down with the task of reading a “novel” about how to use Twitter. I noticed that we both commented on how it’s important to be patient and allow ourselves to make mistakes, which was one of the best practices in Heather Mansfield’s book “Social Media for Social Good”.

      Thanks for sharing some resources for Twitter newbies. It’s so important to learn from others’ experiences and I think it’s awesome when people share their wealth of knowledge!

  3. That is a great post Shannon. I was surprised at the top nonprofits using Twitter, and I appreciated the link to the top ones. One thing I learned about Twitter in the book Social Media for Social Good is that you should not tweet information automatically. i have been making that mistake, I think, because I linked my blog with my twitter account. Whenever I posted to my blog it automatically sent the title and the link to the blog to my twitter followers. I can understand that you do not want to hit users with same information on several platforms, but I would think this would be a useful way to publicize a blog. What do you think is the bet way to use Twitter with other platforms?

    • Thanks for your feedback Julie. I also found the list of the top 50 nonprofits using Twitter to be quite interesting and a great resource to have in terms of trying to adopt some best practices from some of these successful organizations.

      Yes, you’re right about not tweeting information automatically – I guess that takes away from the intentionality of using Twitter for a very specific purpose. I agree that posting the same information on different platforms keeps things consistent because you are delivering the same message to all your users, regardless of which social media platform they are using. On the other hand, it can increase redundancy and information overload for those who follow on more than one platform.

      Not that I have a Twitter account, but if I were to have one, I think one of the best ways to use this social medial tool with other platforms is that you remove the “automatic” feature for tweeting your followers every time you write a blog post. This would help to restore the intentional action of tweeting about your blog post only if you think it’s relevant to your audience. It’s also important for social media users to track trends for each of their social media platforms. Perhaps your recent blog post would interest all your followers, whether on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn but some of your other posts may not. I think that it’s important to be careful in calculating the frequency of tweeting and the content to be tweeted because you want to stay relevant to your followers on Twitter. Since we only have 140 characters to play with, we want to use each opportunity to grab our followers’ attention wisely. When you think that the content is relevant to your Twitter followers, I think that this is a great way to publicize your blog because you’d be doing so with the right audience.

      Is there anything you can add based on your experience? I didn’t even know there was an “automatic feature” for posting the title and link to your blog on Twitter. Did you set up your account this way?

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