Key Lessons from the Top 5 Nonprofits on Facebook

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Nonprofits use social media in unique ways. Rather than aiming to acquire new customers, they’re striving for supporters. When it comes to Facebook, their content is mission-driven, focusing on aligning their values and goals with what they’re producing. They may use it to fundraise with Facebook’s fundraising tools, or they might simply focus on spreading the word through their posts, Facebook Live streams, and events.

With everything they share, they’re hoping to convert a viewer into a champion of their mission, whether that be putting an end to a disease that ravages the world, saving animals from cruel fates, or raising a sport’s prominence.

We took a look at some of the best nonprofits on social media, breaking down how the top 100 performed between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, for our Top 100 Nonprofits on Social Media Report. And while we found that the median engagement rate for these nonprofits was 0.06% on Facebook, we also discovered that there are some outliers earning far higher rates. Let’s unpack what makes the top 5 nonprofits on Facebook stand out and how we can implement these best practices on social media for industries far beyond the nonprofit sector.

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Takeaways From the Top 5 Nonprofits on Facebook

1. American Cancer Society

Lesson: Share personal stories

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The American Cancer Society is working to change that. This nonprofit is dedicated to ending cancer for all. Through their research, they’re working to find effective treatment and prevention for all types of cancer. They also strive to make care accessible for everyone, so every person with cancer, as well as those who are affected by someone in their life having cancer, can get treatment and support.

Cancer, sadly, touches the lives of most people. According to a CBS News poll, 54% of Americans say either they or someone in their immediate family has been diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps that’s why the American Cancer Society does so well on Facebook when they share personal stories from survivors and those currently undergoing treatment who will hopefully soon be survivors.

All of the top five of this nonprofit’s Facebook posts between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, were resharing stories of those who are currently suffering from or have survived cancer. The top post for this time period shared the story of Zach Stroup, who survived after lymphoma was found in his brain and spinal cord. The post received an engagement rate of 2.16%, 36x the median engagement rate of the top nonprofits on Facebook during the same time period.

Inspiration video on nonprofit American Cancer Society's Facebook page detailing Zach Stroup's cancer journey.

With so many people either in Zach’s position or know someone who is, these intimate, inspiring stories increase the nonprofit’s relatability and remind people why their work is so important. By giving followers a face to the people the nonprofit is serving, the stories are helping the American Cancer Society forge a greater bond with their target audience.

Dig deeper: Explore and compare metrics for a sample set of companies using our Nonprofits live benchmarks.

2. Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence

Lesson: Use hashtags

Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence (BTSADV) is working to put an end to domestic violence and give a voice to those who have suffered from domestic violence before. This nonprofit uses Facebook in an interesting way. While the nonprofit’s Facebook page does share stories about survivors, as well as information about stories in the news about domestic violence, the vast majority of their posts are photos of inspiring or thought-provoking quotes and poems.

BTSADV’s top post for the designated time period was a photo of a page in a book with a poem about bravery and strength. It earned a whopping 21.9% in engagement, 365x the median Facebook engagement rate for nonprofits during the same time period.

The inspiring words of the poem read " Be strong enough to say goodbye, and brave enough to never allow the same storm to destroy you twice."

So, why did this photo perform so highly, along with similar images that ranked among their top Facebook posts? This post actually had no caption except for three hashtags: #BTSADV, #Survivor, and #EndDV. Although some photos were captioned, many of the nonprofit’s other top posts also only had hashtags, like #Motivation and #Abuse.

BTSADV was the only nonprofit of our top 5 that used hashtags in over 50% of their posts, coming in at 76%, and those hashtags may have played a significant role in the nonprofit’s high engagement. Consider one of their most used hashtags: #Survivor. Posted 185 times, this hashtag received an average engagement rate of 0.51%. It gave BTSADV an engagement rate lift of 6.07x their overall average engagement rate.

Hashtag analytics in Rival IQ shows you a breakdown of the hashtags, companies using it, engagement rate by follower, number of posts using the hashtag, and more.

Hashtags can help in two significant ways. With branded hashtags, like #BTSADV, the nonprofit can spread their reach on Facebook and other social platforms. The more people use the hashtag, the more people will get directed back to the nonprofit. The hashtag helps BTSADV increase its brand awareness.

However, BTSADV also uses more general hashtags, like #Motivation or #Survivor. If people were looking up motivational posts on Facebook and using these hashtags, they may be directed back to the nonprofit’s page.

3. The Carter Center

Lesson: Use events to plan content

Committed to improving the lives of people everywhere, the Carter Center believes firmly in human rights. From eradicating preventable diseases to mediating peace in international conflicts, this nonprofit wears many different hats. Perhaps, for that reason, it’s difficult to say what they do through their Facebook posts. Instead of sharing inspiring quotes or personal stories, this nonprofit builds most of their content around the people behind the Carter Center and important dates.

The Carter Center posted about seven times per week, which is on par with other nonprofits that posted during this time period. Keeping up with a consistent schedule can be challenging, especially if you plan on posting daily like the Carter Center does. To inspire their content, this nonprofit turns to the calendar.

Many companies share posts about holidays. In fact, according to our 2023 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report, nearly every industry earned some of their highest engagement rates of the year from posts with holiday hashtags across all of their social media channels. Social media users know that when a holiday is coming up, they should expect to see a slew of posts honoring the occasion.

But the Carter Center goes deeper. They share posts in honor of holidays that tie into their company’s message and the people who work toward their goals. For instance, they shared posts about National Caregivers Day, tying it into Rosalynn Carter and the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, which aims to care for those who spend their lives caring for others.

The nonprofit also shares posts around holidays that are directly connected to the Carters, such as their birthdays. The Carter Center’s top post for the time period commemorated President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter’s 76th anniversary. The post earned an engagement rate of 11%, 183x the median for nonprofits during the same period.

A yesteryears photograph of the Carters accompanies this Facebook post from wishing the couple a Happy 76th Anniversary.

4. The Humane Society of the United States

Lesson: Invest in video

The Humane Society of the United States, an animal welfare organization dedicated to the end of animal suffering, actually did not post the most videos of any of the nonprofits on this list. Both the American Cancer Society and the Humane Society posted videos regularly. Despite posting slightly less, the Humane Society’s video posts performed significantly better. While the American Cancer Society’s videos averaged only 0.03% in engagement, the Humane Society averaged 0.24%.

Several differences could have contributed to the American Cancer Society and Humane Society’s engagement gap. The majority of the American Cancer Society’s video posts were lo-fi, which means that they were less polished and mostly shot on the phone. Lo-fi content is often looked at as being more authentic, so it can end up performing better than hi-fi content. In fact, a Facebook study found that lo-fi videos receive more views 84% of the time than studio-made content.

So, why isn’t lo-fi working for the American Cancer Society? It could be because many of their videos are repurposed from other social media channels, like TikTok. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said in 2021 that Instagram would stop promoting content that was clearly recycled from other apps, such as videos with the TikTok watermark. Judging by this announcement, it seems likely that Facebook would follow suit, which might explain why the American Cancer Society’s recycled lo-fi videos aren’t performing as well.

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What is the Humane Society doing that is working? At Rival IQ, we’re big fans of testing and reinvesting in what works, and that seems to be exactly what this nonprofit is doing. Rather than using all lo-fi videos, this nonprofit is diversifying their content, making both lo-fi and more polished content, as well as using Facebook Live. By changing up their video posts, they’re able to see what works and pivot their strategy in different directions. And by using both longer, more polished videos and lo-fi short videos, they can make content more consistently, as lo-fi videos are generally easier to produce.

The nonprofit’s video with the most engagement is also its second-most-engaged-with post of the time period. In this video, which was hi-fi and professionally shot and edited, the nonprofit tells the story of Tilly, a pitbull who was rescued from a dog-fighting operation and now has a happier life in her forever home.

Top nonprofit on Facebook, The Humane Society's touching video of the moment Tilly was freed from a heavy chain that tied her down received over 89K reactions and 8.87M estimated impressions as reported by Rival IQ's social post analysis panel.

This heartwarming story earned an engagement rate of 3.79%, 63x the median engagement rate for nonprofits during this period. However, other top videos for this nonprofit during the same time period include both lo-fi content and Facebook Live events, signifying that the Humane Society is seeing success in diversifying their videos and not just success in hi-fi content.

5. United States Tennis Association

Lesson: Use easy-to-understand graphics

The vast majority of the posts made by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) are photo posts, but not all are simply pictures. Many of the USTA’s top posts incorporate graphics. Some of these graphics show scores during tournaments. Others include tweets from players that are currently competing to set up context to the competition, such as a tweet exchange between Jack Sock and Coco Gauff about wanting to play together at Wimbledon and who then went on to play on the same team in the mixed doubles tournament.

Adding context and additional information is what makes these graphics succeed on Facebook. While some of the infographics simply keep followers up to date on what’s happening in a match, most of the top graphics go further. They add context to the game or overall tournament by saying things like how many Americans are seeded at Wimbledon and other information that most people, even avid tennis fans, might not already know. Rather than just echoing online discussion, the USTA adds to it.

The graphics are also uncrowded and easy to digest. The nonprofit’s top post for this time period recaps Serena Williams’ career, sharing accolades like how many Grand Slam titles, singles titles, and Olympic gold medals she’s won. It’s a tribute to a player who is considered one of the greatest of all time, and it earned a whopping 14.4% engagement rate, 240x the median engagement rate for nonprofits during this time.

Top nonprofit on Facebook USTA's post with a striking inforgraphic celebrating Serena Williams' achievements received over 44k engagements.

Wrapping Our Takeaways Up

According to our 2023 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report, nonprofits are the third-most active industry on Facebook, coming in behind only sports teams and the media. But they don’t rank among the sectors with the highest engagement rate. However, these five nonprofits are showing their competitors how it’s done.

Each of these five nonprofits has a unique strategy, but we can learn something from each of them. Tell meaningful stories in diverse ways, experimenting with different forms of Facebook posts, including lo-fi videos, more polished video compilations, and even Facebook Live.

Consider mixing in graphics as well. When it comes to nonprofits, it helps to tell relatable, personal stories, but adding in numbers can add context to the work the nonprofit does. To help inspire your content, you can turn to the calendar and find events that fit in with your nonprofit’s mission. And when you do post on Facebook, don’t ignore adding hashtags to your caption.

Explore more: Elevate Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Presence with Rival IQ.

Looking to learn more about how nonprofits are using Facebook and beyond in 2023? Check out our Top Nonprofits on Social Media Report or our Live Social Media Benchmarks for Nonprofits to dive into how they’re doing across each of the top social media platforms.

Jackie Gualtieri

Jacqueline is a writer and editor based out of the Central Coast of California. She initially started out as an influencer marketing strategist and continues to find herself fascinated with the way social media affects us. When she's not analyzing the world of social media, she can be found writing poetry and short stories. And if she's not writing, she's probably covering her house with more crochet and embroidery.

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