Social Media and Charity Contests Equal More Grants for Nonprofits

Grant Writers Get Savvy About Social Media and Competitions

Tom's of Maine's montage of photos advertising its charity context, 50 States for Good
Tom's of Maine regularly runs a charity contest to detemine what nonprofits get their grants. Tom's of Maine

The New Landscape of Corporate Grant Making

Social media may not seem like the first place nonprofits look to win grants, but this 21st-century innovation has changed the landscape of grant funding, especially among corporate giving programs.

For instance, companies such as Kohl’s, Chase Bank, and Tom's of Maine have moved some of their corporate social responsibility programs to social media, leading to well-publicized Facebook battles for “likes.”

Rather than these companies deciding who should get what, they use "crowd sourcing" techniques to make the decisions.

These charity contests as they are sometimes called, usually invite nonprofits to apply for inclusion, then a smaller number, that meets the basic requirements of participation, compete for the grants.

Even though some of the earliest charity contests, such as Pepsi Refresh, have quietly died away, many companies continue to convert or supplement their grants programs with social media. It is less expensive, easier to manage and requires fewer resources.

It is also phenomenal “free” advertising, in a space where millions of current and potential consumers gather daily, with the potential to go viral. 

Competition for these social media-driven funds can become fierce, even in small communities. Ultimately, corporations distribute millions of dollars a year in grants through social media.

However, a paper by Maya T. Prabhu, Assistant Editor at "eSchool News" suggests “the best applicants might not always win.” Why? Nonprofits with more resources and greater access to social media users often top the leader boards. Nonprofits that do not already have a social media capacity commonly fail.

Note that I did not say a lack of grant writing capacity. Indeed, few professional grant writing skills are needed for these competitions. Your communications and social media engagement skills are more important.

While participating in corporate charity contests to win grants can sometimes be disappointing,  a little know-how can go a long way.  So, how do you win these grants? Here are some tips:

  1. Tell a clear, concise, and compelling story. Convey why we should care. Why is your need greater than the needs of hundreds of other nonprofits also competing for funds?
  2. Implement a coordinated communications plan (including traditional media, ads, and other means) to “get out the vote” for your effort. This effort must be strategic, and your organization must invest time in getting votes every day to win.
  3. Engage volunteers to manage the “get out the vote” effort.  Regularly engage through social media, and  drive people to vote for your organization. 

    If you have access to hundreds of young people who use Facebook and Twitter regularly and are willing to help push their friends and followers to vote, you are in an excellent position.


    This element is critical. According to a ​Pew Charitable Trust study, people ages 18-29 are more likely to use social media than any other age group. Use that to your advantage.​​

    How Social Media Influences Traditional Grant Seeking

    The value of social media is not confined to non-traditional grant making such as charity contests, however. Even for traditional grant seeking, visibility on social media networks can benefit any nonprofit, even small ones.

    According to a study by Kivi Leroux, the 2013 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, “Nonprofits rely most on Facebook (94%), Twitter (62%), and YouTube (42%).”

    There are strengths to each of these networks. For instance, more than a billion people use Facebook. It is the elephant in the social media room, so you'll likely want to have a presence there.

    Twitter is much smaller, but you'll find lots of nonprofits, foundations, and other grant-making organizations present.

    YouTube is just too good to pass up since the viewership is huge.

     There is even a YouTube program just for nonprofits. Plus, the cost and ease of making video have improved dramatically over the past few years. Almost any nonprofit can establish a YouTube presence.

    LinkedIn for nonprofits can lead you to professional connections, but also to potential board members and volunteers.

    Here are some simple ways that you can position your nonprofit for success in the world of grant making using social media.

    1. Make a Facebook page for your nonprofit IF you will use it. Do not make a page just to have one. The purpose of social media is to engage, so someone needs to invest time every week to posting about your impact, stories from the people who use your services, photos of volunteers and from events, and news about new grants or major gifts. Create a conversation and keep it going.
    2. Put your organization on Twitter. Your executive director (minimally) should have a Twitter account and should tweet regularly about what is happening at your nonprofit. It's easy to have multiple people tweeting from your nonprofit. It's ok for them to use their real names too. If you have multiple accounts, just make sure that one of them is the "official" one. Alternatively, one official account could be maintained by more than one person.
    3. Explore the potential of LinkedIn. All the professionals in your organization should have a personal LinkedIn page. They should connect with other practitioners in the field, collaborators at other nonprofits, and with grant program officers. LinkedIn is a fabulous resource for professional development, and can even serve as a prospecting tool to locate donors and possible grantors.
    4. “Like” the Facebook pages of your current and targeted future funders. According to research from the Center on Effective Philanthropy, only 16% of nonprofits follow their foundations on Facebook or Twitter.
    5. Create videos about your work and post them on YouTube. Then promote your videos through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Just remember to get signed permission from anyone appearing in pictures or videos.
    6. Use apps to manage social media. Save time by using HootSuite, Buffer, or other social media applications to coordinate posts across as many social media sites as you wish, and to track how well you are doing. Metrics are just as important in social media as they are for things such as fundraising. Some of these apps can be used as "dashboards" for your information.

    The point is that grant writers can and should use social media. You can find information about grants and grant makers, plus polish your organization's reputation. And, you do not have to be a social media guru to use it to your advantage to win more grants.