Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

How To Create Your Nonprofit Social Media Calendar

Scheduling your nonprofit's social media.

Social media is a full-time job for any team who has been entrusted to manage it for their nonprofit, so much so that we wrote a two-part article on how to conquer social media for your nonprofit. Overseeing all aspects of social media from posting to follower engagement is made most efficient when a social media calendar is created and put into action. But constructing one is another exercise in capability for your social media team. We would like to make your social media team’s job a little easier in this article by going through some of the fundamental elements in designing your ideal social media calendar.

How To Create Your Nonprofit Social Media Calendar

Engagement through social media.

The central point of social media for nonprofits is engagement. Social media is meant to be one of the many tools in your nonprofit arsenal to reach out to your community and to new people. But this engagement should be focused and the goals you have for your use of social media upheld.  

Steven Shattuck of HubSpot underlines what he calls the Three A’s to guide your nonprofit engagement with social media.  

  • Appreciation: Your nonprofit should use social media to recognize staff, volunteers, board members, and others who have made a contribution, done specific work, or put together a campaign for your nonprofit. As a platform, Shattuck says, “social media allows for high-impact, low-cost recognition” with the added bonus of exposure for your nonprofit across your donor’s social networks. This will not only make your donor feel good about contributing but it will also let others know; this will increase the chances that a particular donor will contribute again or share your content on their own pages. Social media is especially popular with Millennials who are seen as the future of donations; asking for their social media handles and storing them in your donor database can help you communicate with them, especially since they are constantly on social media
  • Advocacy: Use social media to raise awareness and educate followers on the issues that your nonprofit is trying to address, which is what your organization was created for in the first place. Because the majority of people who are active on social media platforms use them to learn more about current events, get information, and do research on organizations, your nonprofit has a unique opportunity with social media to advocate for your cause.  
  • Appeals: Finding donors, retaining donors, and securing donations is the end game of all nonprofits, as it should be. A highly specific appeal (working towards a explicit need or event) will generate more donations that the basic “Donate Now” or “Donate Today” button. Following such appeals, follow donation best practices by showing where donations went, how they helped the cause, especially if it was for a specific campaign such as getting food or water to an area hit by a natural disaster. If your social media policy permits, tap into the social networks of those within your organization: have board members, staff, and volunteers post something on their own social networks about a current or upcoming campaign or fundraiser or links about your nonprofit in general. 

Knowhow Nonprofit also spotlights their own Four E’s to social media. 

  • Education: Make your nonprofit social media platforms a resource for your followers to use to learn more about your cause, what you’re doing to help, and who you are. Provide useful information about the issues you address and other relevant content to demonstrate your knowledge and pass that knowledge on to your followers.   
  • Entertainment: Posting and creating light-hearted content, such as cute animal pictures and the like, will help followers remember your organization and they will associate that warm and fuzzy feeling with your nonprofit and its brand.    
  • Engagement: Actively recognizing contributions, thanking followers for sharing links, answering questions and concerns, conversing with your following, asking for their opinions, is fundamental to making your nonprofit stand out in social media. With all of the work done behind the computer screen, your nonprofit should never forget about the human element; it’s part of what makes the work your organization does so important. 
  • Empowerment: By keeping up with the engagement aspect of your social media platforms, you can encourage your followers to participate in your nonprofit outside of the realm of donations through crowdfunding (a subject we have covered in a previous article explaining what crowdfunding is)  or volunteering, to start. 

Benefits of a calendar.

Despite the spontaneity that sometimes accompanies everyday life, it is our schedules and calendars that really drive our days. Having a schedule in place helps guide us in knowing where to be, when to be there, and to keep us on track by reminding us of what needs to be done.  More than likely, your nonprofit has a master schedule that contains all of the events planned out for the entire year (such as reoccurring fundraisers, yearly campaigns, etc.) right down to the details. The same should be done for your social media presence. As a large part of managing your social media presence, a schedule will serve your nonprofit by addressing five areas, underlined by Maggie Jones in her article “Why You Need an Editorial Calendar for Social”.

  • Establishes and sustains momentum: Having a calendar in place means that you keep your posts consistent. Your nonprofit will continue to meet follower expectations in terms of frequency, timing, and the quality of the content your post and will serve as a good measuring tool of how your audience engages with your content. Because everything will be scheduled, it will help your nonprofit avoid missing any updates. And since all content and posts will be planned, if one week is lacking in material, your social media team can take material from the following week and still have time to replace that content. On the other hand, if you find that you have extra material, you can work that content into the following week or into later weeks.
  • Time-sensitive content will be part of the itinerary: Your nonprofit can schedule press releases, new launches of content (such as a new blog post), new segments, announcements, and other material that has a time stamp on it. If it’s on the schedule, it’s going live.
  • Fosters the involvement of everyone in your nonprofit: The calendar your social media team creates isn’t just theirs alone. Since social media is a platform that effects most, if not all, of your nonprofit’s departments, sharing your posting schedule will keep everyone on the same page. Sharing your schedule with other departments in your nonprofit means that they can offer their own input if a certain part of the schedule should be adjusted because of a particular reason.

    Say your nonprofit has an announcement that you will be launching a texting option on your donation form, for example, that is scheduled to go live in a month. The department handling that launch begins to experience some hiccups and has to postpone the launch date. Because they have access to the social media calendar, they are aware that the announcement was meant to be made on a certain date and can therefore let your social media team know that the announcement has to be put on hold. This will prevent announcements like those from going live without any backing. Additionally, if your nonprofit has to announce something or implement a fundraiser at the last minute, they can use that schedule to fit it in with other posts, the social media team can make adjustments, and then the turnover rate of that announcement or last-minute fundraiser going live on all social media channels is quicker. If you want to look more into how to handle such a time constraint,  we have article available for your reference if you are having trouble hosting a last-minute fundraiser.
  • Keeps a running tally and record:  It’s always good to have everything written out or logged on paper (or in the cloud). Your calendars will archive what you have posted in the past for your later reference. This will prevent your nonprofit from accidentally running similar content or recycling previous content unintentionally. It will also serve to give your team an idea of the subject areas they have already covered in the past to either refurbish or update that content, or create new and more relevant content.
  • Upholds the “411 Rule”: Your schedule will continue to put into effect the generally accepted rule for social media that for every one promotional post (such as promoting an upcoming event or fundraising) your nonprofit should run four posts that are educational and entertaining. Having a calendar that everyone follows is “a huge part of keeping your social posts balanced” and protects your nonprofit’s brand by ensuring that you don’t bombard your nonprofit with disjointed and random content. And while this social media content ratio is one of the most used, there are other options to consider, which we discuss further as we go on.

Followers.

A large part of figuring out your social media posting schedule is being aware of how your target audience and potential followers vary from one social media platform to another and what they use those platforms for. Ryan Pinkham in his article “How to Create a Social Media Posting Schedule” provides us with an audience cheat sheet, breaking down each platform by primary audience and the kinds of content each platform is good for. Essentially, by breaking down the types of content as well, your nonprofit will also get a good idea of the kinds of content that usually appear per platform, which we will cover later on in the article. In terms of audience, though, Pinkham give us a few handy notes of what groups of people use what platform.

  • Facebook: All.
  • Twitter: Young adults.
  • LinkedIn: Business professionals.
  • Pinterest: Women, foodies, arts and crafters.
  • Google+: Men, students, software developers.

Timing.

Opinions on what timing works best for posting per platform are plentiful, easy to find, and vary. While we are definitely contributing to that library of opinions, it must be emphasized that the compilation of those that we include here for your convenience are not the absolute rules to be followed. Like everything else in the nonprofit world, the same idea applies here: Schedule your posts according to what works best for your nonprofit, what your team sees as the most effective to the performance of your social media presence.

That being said, generally speaking, according to Debbie Hemley of the Social Media Examiner, studies show that typical work hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., are the best time to tweet and post on Facebook, both of which we previously discussed as being the biggest platforms used by nonprofits across the board. This general time frame is agreeable to most, MobileCause highlighting that Facebook and Twitter posts that go live in the early morning between 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.  and the early evening between 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. get the most likes and shares with Thursdays and Fridays as the best days for posting.

Others, like Darian Rodriguez Heyman from the Classy blog, add his own thoughts to the conversation through his “Burrito Principle.” According to this “Burrito Principle,” Heyman says, your posts on social media should be timed according to your audience’s down time such as:

  • 8:30 a.m. – on the way to work
  • 12:30 p.m. – during their lunch
  • 5:30 p.m. – on the way back home from work
  • 10:00 p.m. – after dinner, after kids go to sleep, after all other tasks have been completed for the day, time when most people are winding down from their day, which Heyman believes is the best time to post during the week with Wednesday being the day that performs the worst during the week.

For a larger and more detailed timing breakdown, we refer you to Kimi Mongello of SumAll who compiled her list according to Eastern Standard Time in order to accommodate those who are using social media to reach out at a global level. If your nonprofit is operating in a different time zone, you may adjust accordingly.

  • Facebook 1-4p.m. on weekdays
  • Twitter 1-3p.m. on weekdays
  • LinkedIn 7-8:30am and 5-6pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday
  • Instagram 5-6p.m. weekdays and 8p.m. on Mondays (with a sweet spot at 6 p.m.)
  • Tumblr 7-10p.m. weekdays and 4p.m. on Fridays
  • Pinterest 2-4p.m. and 8-11p.m. weekdays with weekends being the best
  • Google+ 9-11 a.m. weekdays

Additionally, Buffersocial noted:

Facebook sees an 18% higher engagement rate on Thursdays and Fridays with 32% higher engagement on weekends.

  • 1 p.m. gets the most shares
  • 3 p.m. gets more clicks
  • 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. generally speaking with the “early afternoon being a solid time to post…any time after dinner and before work being a long shot”

Twitter can be approached in terms of either engagement or clicks, depending on your social media goals.

  • Engagement varies between 17% higher on weekends and 14% more engagement on weekdays.
  • Retweets were found to be highest around 5 p.m. with click-through rates performing best around noon and 6 p.m.
  • According to a study conducted by Twitter itself, users are 181% more likely to be on Twitter during their commute and 119% more likely to use Twitter during school or work.

Frequency.

Like timing, posting frequency opinions abound, varying from article to article. We have compiled some stats that we have read from the various articles available on the subject for your own reference to see where your nonprofit’s social media presence fit. 

Facebook

  • Minimum: 3 times per week
  • Maximum: 10 times per week
  • With this minimum and maximum, it has been generally agreed upon that Facebook’s posting frequency is between 1-4 times per day. This is set in order to achieve visibility in users’ News Feeds among the many updates they get from their own personal networks. Buffersocial conducted a study of top brands and how much they post on social media per day on average which may help keep things in perspective if you are questioning your posting frequency on Facebook. Buffersocial found that “posting once per week on Facebook was so low as to lose connection with your audience.” Although this is an analysis based on top brands, it can serve as a jumping point for your frequency schedule as these top brands are already working off of an established visibility of their brand. Because your nonprofit may or may not have the visibility it wants, posting more often to Facebook can work in your favor.

Twitter

  • Minimum: 5 times per week
  • Maximum: none
  • Twitter is a trickier entity than Facebook in that there isn’t a clearly defined cap to how often your nonprofit can post on this platform. As it is, the daily posting frequency for tweeting varies between 3-8 times per day and 5-10 times per day. In the previously mentioned study conducted by Buffersocial, 11,000 tweets from top brands were analyzed based on retweets and level of engagement. The study found that 3 tweets per day demonstrated increased engagement with 5 times a day increasing the value of each tweet posted and 30 times a day to get “the most value out of your Twitter presence as a whole.” The same point made with Facebook can be made here. Based on the numbers gained from analysis of top brands and their established visibility, it wouldn’t hurt your nonprofit to tweet often and many times a day. Tweeting the suggest amount will do double duty of increasing your nonprofit’s visibility and allowing your nonprofit to cover more kinds of subjects across the board, giving your Twitter presence more weight in terms of the kinds of content you will be tweeting. 

LinkedIn

  • Minimum: 2 times per week
  • Maximum: 5 times per week
  • LinkedIn is a different kind of entity from Twitter and Facebook in that it deals with a specific audience: business professionals. With a maximum posting frequency of 5 times per week, your nonprofit maxes out at 20 posts per month with 1 post per weekday. These numbers look good as posting content 20 times per month has the potential to reach 60% of your audience on this platform. These numbers should be firmly upheld, however, as neglecting it will result in a loss of engagement but overstepping the maximum will overwhelm your audience and they will not want to participate and contribute. Because this platform is meant to foster engagement with professionals, keeping things on schedule will not only keep you on track but keep your audience on track as well in their engagement with your nonprofit.

Instagram

  • Minimum: 1 time per day  
  • Maximum: 4 times per day
  • User engagement with Instagram is very fast-paced as it easier to glance over images because we process them quicker whereas with words we have to go through the act of reading the words, processing their meaning, and then making sense of them as a whole passage. The liking process is also fairly quick as all users have to do is double tap the screen to show that they like the image. Posting often works in favor of your nonprofit in order to help with visibility and exposure. However, pursuing this platform will not work for your nonprofit if it doesn’t have a portfolio of photos from which it can pull for content on a basis consistent with your posting schedule.  

YouTube

  • Minimum: 1 time per month  
  • Maximum: 4 times per month
  • YouTube is usually seen as supplementary to other social media platforms and is generally used by larger nonprofits who are able to spare the resources. Most users don’t use YouTube for engagement on a daily basis in the same way they use Facebook and Twitter so posting a few times a month like suggested here should work if your nonprofit is on this platform. It is also suggested that you use YouTube in conjunction with Facebook and Twitter, almost using YouTube as a platform to store videos about your nonprofit to share throughout other platforms.

Pinterest

  • Minimum: 5 times per day
  • Maximum: 10 times per day 
  • One of the main goals your nonprofit should have for Pinterest is to drive traffic to your website. Pinning consistently is key to keeping engagement high and ensuring that your content is fresh and eye-catching. The same general rule for social media applies here: sharing is essential to social media success. Sharing 1-3 pins from other organizations or of something entertaining and pinning 2-3 original pins will make your nonprofit’s use of Pinterest productive.

Google+

  • Minimum: 3 times per week
  • Maximum: 10 times per week
  • Although there are nonprofits who are making use of Google+, this platform is a little further down the list in terms of the kinds of users you can reach. As previously mentioned, users of this platform are typically made up of men, students, and software developers. Maintaining the frequency suggested will help in developing engagement with your content on this platform with sharing again playing a major part in that development. 

Content.

With timing and frequencies determined for your posting schedule, the next task to take on is putting together some content for those posts. Buffer highlight six kinds of social media content: “links, images, video, quotes, reshares, plain-text updates.” There are various subcategories to be found within these general content areas and your nonprofit isn’t limited by these kinds of content either. However, there are three categories of content that your nonprofit should be aware of: curated content, user-generated content, and original content created by your nonprofit. 

  • Curated Content: This is the content that your social media team collects from other nonprofit pages, from other websites, or from your own community of followers. Content collected will vary with links, images, video, etc. with the inclusion of links to their original source (in order to avoid reproduction of copyrighted material). MobileCause emphasizes that it is important to always recognize the original source of the content you curate for your platforms as this maintains your nonprofit’s credibility. This content, however, must be related to your nonprofit and its cause. Your cause, as with everything in your nonprofit, must be central in the gathering of this content to post on your social media platforms.
  • User-Generated Content (USG): Depending on the rules laid out in your nonprofit social media policy, this will be content that is shared by your followers and posted on your platforms. Your nonprofit may or may not want to limit this form of engagement with your followers as your nonprofit’s brand should be protected in the case of misinformation or slander that could appear in a post. Nevertheless, your followers will potentially feel more connected to your nonprofit if they are permitted to share pertinent information with your organization. Letting your followers have that kind of ability may even direct your nonprofit’s attention to a situation or group that you might be able to help. 
  • ‍Original Content: Your nonprofit should of course make its own contribution to the conversation happening on its own social media platforms. Content that is created by your team should include (but is not limited to) images of events or of everyday life at the office, infographics with statistics, and articles for blog posts, to name a few example. This type of content will be original as it will come from the creative minds of your writers and social media team with your nonprofit’s branded personality shining through. SproutSocial’s Alicia Johnston recommends creating content that is not only directly related to your nonprofit but also finds a way to connect with your followers at an everyday level.

Ryan Pinkham again provides us with a very helpful breakdown of the varying types of content from platform to platform, which we list here for your reference.

Facebook

  • Behind-the-scenes photos
  • Quotes
  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • True-or-false questions
  • Blog posts
  • Newsletters or announcements 

Twitter

  • Blog posts; interesting articles
  • Quotes
  • Industry news
  • Newsletters or announcements
  • Vine or YouTube videos
  • Event updates

LinkedIn

  • Product updates
  • Blog posts
  • Industry news
  • Recruitment videos
  • Job postings
  • Newsletters or announcements

Pinterest

  • Product photos
  • Guides, eBooks, and white papers
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Quotes or tips
  • Blog posts
  • Curated content 

Google+

  • Behind-the-scenes photos
  • Videos
  • Event information
  • Blog posts
  • Industry news
  • Guides, e-books, white papers

When creating content, in order to make the process of posting easier, Belle Beth Cooper of Buffer suggests creating a “staple update,” a template to follow for each kind of post you will put up on your platform. Cooper used Twitter as an example of this template, with text coming first them followed by a relevant link at the end of the tweet with other example of Twitter templates as tweets that are most images, Q&As, quotes, etc.  

Alternatively, when finding content to post, Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne “goes to the source of each great post her reads and read[s] through the latest 3-4 posts on that blog. This helps him discover new blogs and people to follow.” Having your team implement the same practice could mean finding new sources of content that will be relevant and useful to post for your followers to share and could help in finding different kinds of content to post in general.

If you’re stumped and can’t figure out what kinds of content your followers would like to see or would be interested in, ask them! Alicia Johnston of Sprout Social advises that you conduct a poll where followers can vote on what kind of content they would like to see more of or see the next time you post. Open it up by taking suggestions as well via comments. If you have already been on social media for a while, look back at your older posts and see what kinds of content performed well (if it had a high number of shares and likes). If you’re just starting out with social media, check out the social media pages of nonprofits who are working towards a similar goal or who have a similar cause to yours; take a look at what posts encouraged the most engagement and take notes for your own platforms.

Ratios.

In all of the reading that we’re sure you’ve done up to this point concerning your nonprofit’s social media presence, the subject of content ratios has definitely been a big subject. In our own readings we’ve found many examples of various ratios that your nonprofit can experiment with and use. 

  • 4-1: Like mentioned earlier in this article, this ratio is one of the most popular in circulation to the point that for-profits use this ratio for their social media platforms as well. Buffer’s Belle Beth Cooper hits this ratio on the head where “for every four ‘staple’ updates [the previously discussed template], publish one different type for variety.” So in application, for every 4 posts of the same kind of content, such as an update or link, the next single post, put out something different, i.e. a retweet, quote, or image.
  • 5-3-2: Introduced by TA McCann, this ratio is broken down into 5 pieces of curated content (content from others), 3 pieces of original content from your nonprofit, and 2 updates or promotional content from your nonprofit.
  • 4-1-1: Broken down, this ratio comes to 4 pieces of curated content, 1 reshare, and 1 promotional post or update.
  • 555+: Kevan Lee of Buffer summarizes this as being made up of 5 updates about your nonprofit and your own original content, 5 updates about others and curated content, and 5 posts that are responses or replies to comments and concerns raised by followers. Additionally, the + indicates miscellaneous content that add value to your social media presence such as a hash tagged post (i.e. #TBT) or user-generated content.
  • Golden Ratio: Divided up into 60/30/10, this ratio means 60% of the content posted by your nonprofit should be curated content, 30% original content, and 10% promotional content and updates from your nonprofit.
  • Rule of Thirds: Also arguably one of the most popular and widely used ratios, it can be traced to HubSpot’s Steven Shattuck. Your social media content should be divided, as the name hints, into thirds; 1/3 posts about your nonprofit, 1/3 curated content, and 1/3 conversations or “personal interactions” with your followers.

Your nonprofit has a lot of ratios to choose from. Choose what’s best and if resources allow, explore by working with other ratios to see which works best from platform to platform.

Assembling your schedule.

Social media team, assemble! It’s finally time to construct your calendar. Kevan Lee puts together a nice little cheat sheet for your schedule that we have compiled for you here with a few notes of our own. Start with some of the larger and more important general events that your nonprofit has such as: holidays (for holiday fundraising and appeals), annual events and meetups (i.e. marathons, walk-a-thons, color runs, etc.), reoccurring events, and conferences. These are events that are normally on your nonprofit’s calendar and something that all departments are aware of.

Kevan Lee breaks down content scheduling down to the day, to the week, to the month, and to the year, listing the questions your social media team should be asking itself when constructing that schedule.  We include them here for your reference and some additional questions to consider.

Day by day:  

  • ‍What is on the schedule for tomorrow?
  • What events, launches, promotions are slotted for tomorrow?
  • How does your ratio work with a day’s worth of established content?
  • How much content is needed?

Week by week:

  • Set aside a day to plan for the week ahead, all 7 days.
  • ‍What is on the schedule for this week?
  • What events, launches, promotions are slotted for this week?
  • Are there any new blog posts that need to be published and promoted?
  • How much new content do you need to curate ahead of time?
  • How much and which images do you need for the week ahead?

Month by month:

  • This is more strategy based as opposed to writing out specific posts, updates, or pieces of content. If resources allow, planning by month can also help to work in any experiments your nonprofit could be running like different times and frequencies or different ratios of posting, even types of content being posted. 
  • What is on the schedule for this month?
  • What events, launches, promotions are slotted for tomorrow?
  • What are your goals and plans for this month’s content?
  • How much of your content and which of them can you schedule a month ahead?

Year by year:

  • Take a look at the year ahead and take note of major events. 
  • What is on the schedule for the coming year?
  • What events, launches, promotions are slotted for the year?
  • What sharing ratio will you be use for your content?
  • What daily timing and frequency will you implement?

Keeping your finger on the pulse.

Being conscious of current events is a built in part of the job of managing social media and that is no more applicable than when disasters and tragedy occur. Danielle Cyr in her article “How to Manage Pre-Scheduled Social Media Marketing Updates” advises that during those times you disable and stop your automatic updates before they’re posted. This is to demonstrate sensitivity towards such events. Cyr says posting a straightforward update such as “Our thoughts are with those affected by XYZ” will not only show your nonprofit’s recognition of the tragedy but “can go a long way in building goodwill.”

This will also avoid any backlash that would occur if your nonprofit decided to go on with its regularly scheduled programming, hurting your nonprofit brand, as discussed in our article "Why Branding Is Important". It will be received poorly by your followers and the public as they will see the action as trying to draw attention away from the current tragedy.  

Having a calendar in place is most definitely good practice, however, your social media team and nonprofit should also practice flexibility. The social media world is fluid and while there are guides for how to navigate its waters, it always pays to be adaptable.

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Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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