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A Picture Says a Thousand Words: Using Instagram to Connect with Millennials

Connecting to the ever-growing millennial donor population has been a hot-topic in fundraising for a few years. It’s a topic often met with confusion or frustration. Who are these “Millennials?” What makes connecting with them so difficult? What motivates and inspires them? As someone squarely in the middle of this generation, I have a fairly straightforward answer to these vexing questions:

Use more pictures.

When I say use more pictures, I don’t mean reusing the same old, tired stock photography that so many nonprofits use. I mean use photographs that are unique to your organization, your mission, your volunteers, and—most importantly—your donors. In an age where an overwhelming amount of information is at our fingertips, a single, unique photograph has the power to cut through the digital clutter.

In an age where an overwhelming amount of information is at our fingertips, a single, unique photograph has the power to cut through the digital clutter.

The idea of incorporating photography in donor outreach can be daunting to nonprofits that are new to the social media game. Often, nonprofits think they need a fancy camera, expensive editing software, and a photography degree to make an impact, but all you really need is a smartphone and an Instagram account.

Instagram is one of the fastest growing social media networks worldwide, boasting 800 million active monthly users at the end of 2017. It has beat out Twitter, which is at 330 million users, and is hot on the heels of Facebook, which boasts 1 billion users. According to 2018 data from M+R benchmarks, an annual study of online metrics for nonprofits, Instagram actually outpaced Facebook and Twitter in increasing numbers of followers at 44%, 13%, and 15%, respectively. Data also shows millennials make up the majority of regular Instagram users. Not only is it growing in popularity, it is free, user-friendly, includes basic photo-editing tools, and is integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. For those doing donor outreach and communications on a tight budget, Instagram is a one-stop shop for reaching younger donors.

Where to Start

Instagram is a photo-driven, scroll-style mobile platform. Like any other social media channel, it relies on individuals and organizations to create accounts and post content. Some of the important things to keep in mind when creating your organization’s Instagram account:

  • Make your username/handle recognizable. Try to use the same name as any of your other social media platforms.
  • Use the same profile picture that you use for all of your other social media accounts. This is important to maintain a strong brand identity, and it allows current donors to immediately recognize you in this new space.
  • Make your profile PUBLIC. This means that any of those 800 million Instagram users can see and follow your profile, giving you the widest reach possible.
  • Link your profile to your Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts (if you have them). This will allow you to share content from Instagram directly back to these pages.
  • Follow users who align with your mission. For example, if your organization works to counteract the effects of global warming, follow someone like Bill Nye the Science Guy or other well-known authorities and activists in that field. This allows you to connect with high-profile users who share similar goals and can enable others to share your posts, further spreading your message.

Now What

Step 1: Take photos. Instagram allows you to take photos from within the platform itself or to upload photos you’ve already taken. People like photos of other people, and donors, regardless of their generation, like photos that show where their money is going and the impact it is having. This means the most moving images will be of people engaging with your organization in impactful ways. These might include:

  • Volunteers preparing and serving hot meals at a food bank.
  • A donor meeting with a student supported by a scholarship that the donor endowed.
  • Field experts engaging in cutting-edge research sponsored by your donors.
  • Children experimenting with donor-funded interactives in a museum exhibit.

Step 2: Filters, filters, filters. Instagram has a host of photo editing options, from changing the size, shape, and brightness of a picture to simply adding color-enhancement. These edits are small but can make all the difference in ensuring your images stand out from the rest.

Step 3: Caption, tag, and share your photo.

  • Keep your caption short, sweet, and to the point. If it makes sense with the picture, thank your donors for their support.
  • Always provide a link to your donations or volunteer sign-up page. Invite viewers to explore the many ways they can further learn about, engage with, and support your organization.
  • Always use hashtags, but make sure they are relevant and meaningful. As you type in your hashtag, Instagram will show you how many people have used that same hashtag and offer suggestions for others you might like to use. Pick the top three to five that are the most relevant to the image, your organization, and have the broadest reach.
  • Consider other platforms on which this photo and caption can be shared. For those who don’t use a social media scheduling platform like HubSpot or Hootsuite, this is a great way to get photo driven content onto all of your social media sites. Of course, some content is better suited for certain platforms than others. It is important to be strategic and discerning about where content ends up: an ask for donations might not be best suited for a career-networking site like LinkedIn.

Instagram is About the Long Game

It’s important to keep in mind that the oldest millennials are around 38 years old and the youngest are 22. Many are still establishing themselves in their careers or finishing college. Within the next three years, are millennials likely to make up the majority of your major and principal donors? Probably not. Still, this generation is a charitably driven generation, as explored in a recent GG+A study. They like to volunteer and donate what they can to better their communities. Using Instagram to garner the interest of this generation is all about the long game of fundraising. It is a way to reach this younger, civic-minded audience and begin working them into your charitable giving pipeline. Draw people closer to your mission-driven work by showing them why they should donate time and money to your cause—with pictures.

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About the author

Emily Welch-Smith

Project Assistant

Emily Welch-Smith, Project Assistant, supports the firm’s consultants and clients in the areas of strategic communications, higher education, arts and culture, and independent schools. Prior to joining GG+A, Emily worked as a development and marketing intern at Springbrook, a nonprofit organization in Oneonta, NY serving children with developmental disabilities. Emily…