1. Define your goals

Twitter is a brilliant marketing tool and can be used to help achieve a range of goals, but it’s important to work out what you hope to achieve before you get started.

Often attracting followers is seen as an end-goal in itself, but really you need to think about how your community is going to help the charity’s cause.

For non-profit organisations, Twitter could be used for various initiatives including raising awareness, attracting more volunteers, fundraising, or contacting potential patrons.

2. Have a content plan

In order to ensure that you have an interesting and active Twitter feed you need to think in advance and schedule in a content plan ahead of time.

If you try to spontaneously come up with new ideas every morning it will become incredibly stressful and the quality of your content will suffer.

Therefore it’s a good idea to create a calendar that includes all the charity’s major milestones, campaigns and fundraising initiatives, as this will help you to come up with content ideas in advance.

Similarly, try to come up with fun or quirky ideas that tie into other major national events, such as Christmas, New Year, sporting events, public holidays and historical anniversaries (e.g. 1969 moon landings).

3. Work out the type of content that your followers interact with

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, charities tend to be involved with serious or difficult causes so it can be a challenge to come up with interesting and attractive content that people will wasn’t to share.

Environmental and wildlife charities have a bit of an advantage as people like to interact with pictures of exotic locations and cute animals, but on the flip side it’s far more difficult if you work for a domestic violence or cancer charity for example.

One possible way around this is to focus on fundraising initiatives or the good work your charity does in the community, which can produce some excellent photo opportunities. 

Also, local fundraisers occasionally get featured in the regional press, so make sure to keep track of these articles and tweet links where possible.

There are a huge range of formats that you can experiment with, including videos, blogs, articles, photo albums or even infographics.

It is also worth asking for user-generated content, such as photos, artwork, fundraising ideas or jokes. This will gives you more content to work with and also helps to engage and reward your followers.

The important thing is to be creative and keep an eye on the kind of content that gets the most interactions so you can tailor your future posts accordingly.

4. Interact with your followers

It’s still quite common for consumer brands to ignore all @mentions from other users and simply use Twitter to broadcast their own marketing messages, which is a missed opportunity for building brand loyalty and turning customers into advocates.

I think it’s even more important for charities to respond to their followers as often people will feel a personal affinity with a particular cause, so interacting with them is a great way of saying thanks for the support and cementing their relationship with the charity.

Unless you work for a massive charity with hundreds of thousands of followers it shouldn’t take too long to respond to all your @mentions, and the potential benefits in terms of advocacy and brand exposure mean that it’s worth the effort.

And even if you do get a huge number of @mentions every day, it only takes a few seconds to hit the ‘favourite’ button.

5. Create hashtags around your campaigns and fundraising

Hashtags have become slightly overused on Twitter, but they’re still a useful tool for marketing campaigns.

Therefore it’s a good idea to try to come up with a short, unique hashtag that can be used to promote specific fundraising initiatives.

Unless you come up with a brilliant campaign or by some stroke of luck manage to go viral then it’s highly unlikely that your hashtag will start trending, but that shouldn’t really be the main objective for using a hashtag.

Instead it’s a good way of keeping track of conversations about your campaign so you can retain an element of control and identify people that are interested in your charity. 

In oneinteresting examples from last year Water For Life hijacked a popular hashtag, #firstwordproblems, and turned it on its head for a PR campaign.

Twitter users adopted the hashtag as a way of sarcastically complaining about minor issues, so Water For Life used it to raise awareness of genuine problems affecting people in Haiti.

Admittedly the charity did have the help of an advertising agency, but it’s a good example of how non-profits can use hashtags to raise awareness. 

6. Work with your existing patrons and supporters

If you’re lucky enough to have celebrity or high profile patrons, then make sure to tweet at them on a regular basis (without becoming too annoying, obviously) and use their profile to raise awareness.

It’s probably better if this takes the form of a natural conversation, such as a response to something they’ve tweeted, or a seemingly spontaneous message from them rather than just bugging them for retweets.

And on that theme, begging for retweets from random celebrities is a bad idea. It looks desperate and reflects badly on the charity.

7. Identify and follow similar people and organisations

Twitter is a great way of identifying other organisations and individuals who a working towards a similar cause as your own charity.

By identifying and following these people you can then raise your own profile and start to build a stronger online community.

So, start by following the organisations you are already aware of then search on relevant hashtags to discover new and interesting users.

This could be generic terms like #nonprofit, #fundraising, #charity, or words that are more specific to your cause.

By searching for different terms every few weeks you should be able to build a decent community of like-minded users.