10 Instagram Best Practices for
With one billion active monthly users, Instagram is a very powerful social network used by nonprofits worldwide. According to the Open Data Project, of the 89% of nonprofits worldwide that use social media in their digital marketing and fundraising strategy, 75% of those use Instagram.
Known for having higher engagement than other social media, Instagram is evolving and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for nonprofits to get exposure in the Instagram Feed. The best practices below should help if you’re nonprofit is noticing a decrease in engagement and exposure.
1) Maximize your Instagram Profile Photo and Bio.
Making a positive first impression is crucial to securing new followers on Instagram. First, make sure that your nonprofit uses a well-designed, visually-striking profile photo a.k.a. avatar. After a supporter follows your nonprofit, your avatar is how they will mentally and visually connect your brand to your Instagram posts. In most cases, your avatar should not include text as it would be too small to read in the Instagram feed on a smartphone. For examples of text-free avatars, see the United Way of Southwest Michigan and Amnesty International:
Second, write a compelling Instagram bio. You are limited to 150 characters, so get straight to the point, draw attention to your bio with emojis and campaign hashtags, and include a call-to-call to action. For example, Greenpeace Canada and No Kid Hungry:
Story Highlight Covers
Third, if your nonprofit regularly shares stories on Instagram, make a strong first impression by creating custom Highlight covers using a graphic design tool or a mobile app. For example, Oceana and the Dogs Trust:
Account Category & Contact Information
Finally, add the category of “nonprofit organization” under Edit Profile > Category. You can also add contact information which will add a “Contact” button, a “Call” button, or an “Email” button to your profile depending upon which contact information you provide. If you are a location-based nonprofit, such as a museum or zoo, then also add your address.
In addition, apply to get verified. If approved, a blue verification badge will be added next to your nonprofit’s name on Instagram. This adds credibility to your brand and likely improves your results in organic reach. The application process is easy, but approval is uncertain. Despite Nonprofit Tech for Good being active on Instagram for nearly 10 years and having over 70,000 followers, our application for verification is repeatedly denied. That said, Médecins Sans Frontière is an example of a verified account:
2) Ensure that your Instagram account is a Business Account.
To get access to Insights, to post ads, set up a Shop, and use Instagram Charitable Giving Tools, your nonprofit must have an Instagram Business Account. To do so, go to your Instagram profile in the mobile app and select Settings > Account > Switch to Professional Account. During the process, you will be prompted to connect your Instagram account to your nonprofit’s Facebook Page account. It’s worth noting that you must be an admin of your Facebook Page to take this action. Once you have connected the two, you officially have a business account.
3) Post 3-7 times weekly to your Instagram and respond to your followers.
The accepted best practice is to post to Instagram once to three times daily, but for most nonprofits posting more than once daily is a ridiculous benchmark. The research is based on brands with a large following, a vast array of visual content, and a significant budget for advertising. If that is your nonprofit, then go for it, but most nonprofits should aim to post consistently 3-7 times weekly. Like Facebook, an increasingly stingy algorithm on Instagram makes posting twice or more daily a waste of time for small and medium-sized nonprofits unless they invest in advertising – and according to the Open Data Project, less than half of the nonprofits that do spend on social ads are doing so on Instagram.
Post Eye-catching Photos
According to Hubspot, single-image posts receive 28% more likes than video and 14% more likes than carousel posts. That’s good news for nonprofits that don’t have a lot of visual content. On Instagram, first and foremost, do your best to post compelling, eye-catching images – both that your organization has created or captured and those that you can curate and source on Instagram. If your images aren’t necessary beautiful or awe-inspiring, that’s OK provided they contribute to telling the story of your organization’s mission.
Write Good Captions
In the early days of Instagram, writing short captions were the predominant best practice. People had joined the social network primarily for the visual experience – not to read. Today, Instagram users have evolved. They do read and often will read very long captions, even articles or blog posts copied and pasted directly into Instagram. The character limit for an Instagram post is 2,200 and while posting lengthy captions in every, or even most posts, is not the recommendation, writing captions that are multiple sentences that strategically use hashtags and emojis is the current best practice.
Tag Partners and Corporate Sponsors
Partners and corporate sponsors are notified if they are tagged in your posts. It’s a simple way to express appreciation for partnership and an excellent means to steward corporate sponsors.
Geotagging on Instagram is especially beneficial to localized nonprofits. For example, The Trustees works to protect the environment in Massachusetts and they geotag themselves in locations throughout the state thus expanding their reach. They also include geo hashtags in their captions, in this case, the neighborhood of #Roxbury in Boston:
Also, if you are a location-based nonprofit, don’t be bashful about geotagging yourself. It helps build your location page. For example, the Field Museum tags itself when posting on Instagram, thus also posting to the Field Museum Location Page:
That said, if your nonprofit does not yet have a Location Page, you can create one using Facebook Check-in.
Post Content That Inspires Engagement
Again, like Facebook, if your nonprofit does not inspire engagement on Instagram (likes, comments, etc.), then your organic reach will significantly decrease. The decline of organic reach on Instagram is not as dire as on Facebook, but it is still significant. While Facebook’s organic reach is estimated to be between 1-3%, on Instagram it is estimated to be 5-20% depending on the quality of your content.
As mentioned earlier, to maximize organic reach prioritize compelling, eye-catching single image posts and mix it up with the occasional video and carousel post. That said, the Community Foodbank of Southern Arizona shows that photos taken in real-time that communicate the story of their mission and programs can be engaging and that not all visual content on Instagram need be of exotic travel locations, impromptu modeling shots, or of stunning nature scenery to be effective:
Also, inspirational quotes and powerful stats can be effective for inspiring engagement and provide variety to Instagram posts:
Finally, your reward for prioritizing good storytelling and inspiration in your posts is that your nonprofit gets to promote your events and post calls-to-action. On Instagram, and on all social media, follow the 80/20 rule – that is, 80% of your content should serve your mission and programs and 20% should directly ask your followers to give or get more involved:
4) Be authentic in your use of hashtags and have some fun with emojis.
In its early days, using large numbers of hashtags on Instagram posts was acceptable and even considered a best practice. The concept was that if you used 10, 20, or even 30 hashtags, your nonprofit would be more likely to reach potential new followers. Not anymore. Today, the overuse of hashtags is considered hashtag spamming.
Using more than six hashtags on a post on Instagram decreases engagement. Hashtagging on Instagram is much more about the quality of hashtags than the quantity. That said, stay away from using general hashtags, such as #beautiful and #happy, and instead narrow your focus to hashtags relevant specific to your nonprofit, such as causes (#foodinsecurity), special campaigns (#endfoodwaste), your location (#Tucson), and relevant emojis (# – that’s right! Emojis can be hashtags).
Also, using emojis in Instagram posts can boost your engagement by 48%, yet it’s surprising how many nonprofits don’t use them. Emojis are a colorful way to draw attention to your captions and calls-to-action and add personality to your posts . Likely many nonprofits don’t use emojis because they are posting to Instagram from a third-party tool on a desktop (not recommended, unless it is Business Suite), thus be sure to bookmark Emojpedia.org for easy access to copy-and-paste emojis:
5) Embrace the “Link in Bio” strategy and “Swipe Up” links in Stories.
Capturing website traffic from Instagram has always been a challenge since nonprofits can not post active hyperlinks in posts. For nonprofits with less than 10,000 followers, you are limited to utilizing the website link in your bio. For those with 10,000 or more followers, you can also add a “Swipe Up” link to your Instagram Stories. Even so, without paid advertising, driving traffic from Instagram requires effort.
“Link in Bio” Strategy
To begin, add “Link in Bio” or a simple call to action to your posts when asking your followers to take action by visiting your website. Instagram users are well-accustomed to link in bio requests and do click the featured website link in your bio. For example, Helping Rhinos links to registration information for their 2021 Global Gala for Rhinos in their bio and asks people to register by visiting “the link in their bio.” As a best practice, use emojis to draw attention to your link in bio call-to-action and add it to the beginning of your message otherwise it could be easy to miss.
“Swipe Up” Links in Stories
The “Swipe Up” function enables viewers to swipe up on a story or tap an arrow at the bottom of their screen to access a link without leaving the Instagram app. It’s estimated that as much as 25% of viewers will swipe up on a story, but that’s likely only for brands that produce exceptional story content.
Unfortunately, swipe up links are only available to those accounts that have 10,000 followers or that have been verified. To reach the 10,000 follower benchmark, send an email to your list asking your supporters to follow you on Instagram or purchase advertising to secure more followers. That said, the unpredictability of the Instagram algorithm combined with the cost of Instagram Ads, should give nonprofits far from the 10,000 benchmark pause. If your nonprofit can’t reach 10,000 followers without spending thousands of dollars and considerable effort, then focus your time and budget elsewhere.
Customized for small nonprofits on a limited budget, the Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar highlights current trends in using social media for fundraising, advocacy, and storytelling.
6) Utilize Instagram Charitable Giving Tools.
According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 10% of online donors have made a donation through Instagram Charitable Tools. Of those, 93% said they are likely to do so again. That’s an incredibly high donor retention rate for a set of tools that are still in their early adoption phase.
The Open Data Project indicates that 16% of nonprofits currently use Instagram Charitable Giving Tools (as of April 2021), but that number will grow significantly as more nonprofits learn about the tools and as Instagram continues to expand the toolset. Nonprofits would be wise to experiment with Instagram Charitable Giving Tools now in its early days and embrace new tools as they are launched.
To begin, check to see if Instagram Charitable Giving Tools are available in your country yet. If yes, then enroll and be approved to use Facebook Charitable Giving Tools and link your nonprofit’s Instagram business account with your nonprofit’s verified Facebook Page. Once done, your nonprofit will be able to:
- Add a “Donate” button to your profile (only visible in the mobile app)
- Add “Donate” stickers to your stories
- A “Donate” buttons to livestreams
Like Facebook Charitable Giving Tools, nonprofits are not raising much money via “Donate” stickers and “Donate” buttons in livestreams on Instagram (according to the Open Data Project). The majority of the funds being raised on Instagram are coming from the “Donate” button on profiles, but that requires asking followers to visit your nonprofit’s profile to donate. Similar to the “Link in Bio” strategy, your nonprofit will need to embrace a “Donate on Profile” strategy to raise funds on Instagram.
That said, when “Donate” buttons come to posts in the feed – that will be a gamechanger! And if Instagram expands their Charitable Giving Tools to include a toolset similar to Facebook Fundraisers, then without a doubt, Instagram will become a fundraising powerhouse and raise billions for nonprofits worldwide.
The Instagram donor experience for the Global Sanctuary for Elephants is below. Be sure to note the checkbox for the email opt-in. You will not receive the donor’s mailing address, but if the donor opts-in, you will receive their email address. Thus far, most nonprofits have been terrible at thanking and engaging Facebook and Instagram donors. In fact, most nonprofits don’t thank their Facebook and Instagram donors at all and that’s a huge opportunity wasted as we all know that donor appreciation is the cornerstone of effective donor retention.
Automated “Thank You” email from Instagram:
7) Experiment with an Instagram Shop.
There is so much potential with two-tap, in-app buying in Instagram and Facebook Shops, but Instagram and Facebook have the following policy concerning the contact information of buyers:
To ensure the privacy of our users, we do not share customer data aside from the name, email, and shipping address to fulfill orders. Customer email addresses cannot be used for marketing purposes unless the customer opts-in. At this time, your customers can only opt-in to share email addresses for marketing purposes if your shop is integrated via our API or some platform partners.
Thus, by decision of the shop owner, the vast majority of Instagram and Facebook Shops (nonprofit and for-profit) are not in-app, but rather products link to individual product pages on a nonprofit’s website where they can capture a buyer’s contact information. For example, the Human Rights Campaign on Instagram and Facebook:
This approach likely provides some minimal organic exposure of your online store, but there is a revolution happening in e-commerce. Businesses and nonprofits that sell through Amazon or Etsy also do not receive the contact information of their buyers for marketing purposes and they are two of the most successful e-commerce websites in the history of the internet. So, similar to how nonprofits have had to decide whether or not to embrace Instagram and Facebook Fundraising Tools to raise more money – at the expense of not receiving all donor data – the same decision now needs to be made in nonprofit e-commerce. Sell more t-shirts on Instagram and Facebook through two-tap, in-app shopping and make more money, but not receive shopper data? Or stay with the status quo and sell only from your website?
In these days of early adoption of Instagram and Facebook Shops, we say experiment! Create a small shop of 3-6 products – perhaps start on Shopify and then integrate with Instagram and Facebook so you at least have the option to capture the email address of your buyers. Then, over the 2021 holiday shopping and fundraising season, promote your products heavily on Instagram and Facebook and see if they sell. Purchase advertising to promote your products and share your products regularly in Instagram Stories. Then, in 2022, contact Nonprofit Tech for Good and let us know how it worked!
8) Experiment with Instagram Ads.
Organic reach on Instagram is dropping rapidly and is currently estimated to be 5-20%. Like Facebook, Instagram has quickly evolved into a pay-to-play platform and like Facebook, experimenting with Instagram Ads is now required if you plan on investing time building an Instagram community for your nonprofit.
Instagram Ads are more expensive than Facebook because ads are one of the few ways for nonprofits to link directly to their website on Instagram. On average, you can expect to pay at least twice the amount for a click-through from an Instagram Ad as you would for a Facebook Ad.
Instagram Ads can be easily created by adding them to a Facebook Ad campaign, however, to excel at Instagram Ads and Facebook Ads, you’ll need lots of room to fail and experiment – and you’ll need to double your advertising budget. In Facebook Best Practices for Nonprofits, we recommend small nonprofits spend a minimum of $100 a month on Facebook Ads. If you are going to add Instagram Ads, then add another $100 to that budget. It is worth saying that $200 a month is considered a very, very small social advertising budget, so the 54% of small nonprofits that are not spending any funds at all on social media advertising, according to the Open Data Project likely have very little tangible ROI from using social media.
That said, creating and managing effective social media advertising ads is an acquired skill. There are all kinds of tricks to the trade, such as using UTMs (see bit.ly link below) and pixels to track conversions from your ads. If you are going to jump into social advertising, get training from seasoned professionals so you can ensure that your ad dollars are well-spent.
9) Experiment with Instagram Stories & Instagram Live.
Best Practices 1-8 above should be the top priorities for nonprofits, but if your nonprofit is growing a following and engagement is consistent – and you have more time to invest in using Instagram, then add Instagram Stories and Instagram Live to your strategy.
Tangible ROI from Instagram Stories is elusive. As mentioned above, “Donate” buttons in stories are not very effective for the vast majority of nonprofits and unless your nonprofit has 10,000 followers, you can not add “Swipe Up” links to your stories. Like Facebook Stories, there’s a lot of hype about stories (which disappear 24 hours after posting), but for most nonprofits, there’s very little tangible ROI in exchange for the time required to create visually appealing, engaging stories.
That said, if your nonprofit is less worried about acquiring donations or website traffic from using Instagram Stories, but you are all in for using stories to engage your community, then experiment with the vast array of engagement tools offered for Instagram Stories and be sure to archive your stories in Highlights. For example, Junior Achievement of Arizona:
In addition, experiment with using the text function to add “Link in Bio” to your stories to attempt to get more website visits and add don’t be shy about adding the “Donate” button to your stories if you are signed up for Instagram Charitable Giving Tools. And of cource, respond to all DMs sent in response to your stories (and posts).
Like Facebook Live, for most nonprofits, Instagram Live is best used periodically for special events and campaigns and even though you can add a “Donate” button to your livestreams, thus far according to the Open Data Project, fundraising through Instagram Live has been unsuccessful. If you have an influencer willing to go live with a “Donate” button, that could be effective but that strategy is only relevant to a very few well-connected large nonprofits.
That said, Instagram did recently expand to Live Rooms which allow up to four people to go live simultaneously. That’s an intriguing development, but overall nonprofits should primarily focus on creating engaging posts and experiment with Instagram Live and Stories if, and only if, your organization believes them to be a good use of your time and resources.
10) Study Facebook Business Suite.
Facebook (thus Instagram) is putting a lot of effort into building their Business Suite platform and Facebook has a pattern of rewarding early adopters of their new tools. Clearly, they want admins to use Facebook and Instagram natively rather than through third-party apps, such as Buffer and HootSuite.
- Share posts and stories to both Facebook and Instagram
- Manage your Facebook and Instagram Inboxes
- Create and manage ads
- Access and study Insights
- A long list of “More Tools” that will continue to grow: