Where Nonprofits With Zero Budget Can Get Help With Social Media

Strategies to find qualified volunteers and pro bono services

Holly Bodner
Aug 20, 2019 · 6 min read
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Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

SEO, backlinks, retweets, blogs, engagement, analytics … if you work in marketing for a nonprofit, social media may seem like an overwhelming addition to your already full plate. What good is a great social media marketing strategy if you don’t have enough people to implement it? The good news is, help is available. You just may have to get creative to find it.

Old Thinking: Bring on the Interns!

One way organizations solve the problem of not having enough staff is to delegate social media work to interns or volunteers, but it’s important to be strategic about who you ask for help.

Interns might seem like a logical choice (they’re always using social media, so they must know something about it, right?), but that doesn’t mean they necessarily understand social media marketing. There’s nothing wrong with giving interns the opportunity to provide day-to-day support, but when it comes to social media strategy, you need someone with more expertise.

Enlisting volunteers and pro bono help is another way to supplement your team, but that has its own downsides: having to redo the work of well-intentioned volunteers or finding that the consultant disappeared to work on other projects. It’s hard to fault someone who’s giving their time for free, but let’s face it; you’re the one responsible for the product at the end of the day.

Is there any way to find qualified individuals when you have little or no budget to offer them? Yes, provided you think about what’s in it for you as well as them. If this is going to be a win-win scenario for everyone, look for volunteers who stand to get something out of a partnership with your organization besides the satisfaction of giving back. Following are a few of my favorite techniques for finding them:

Strategic Volunteers

Individuals who take a work break due to caregiving, illness, or other reasons usually plan to return at some point. These people are probably not interested in licking 600 envelopes or staffing the information desk. They want to tackle more responsibility so they can refresh their skills and contacts before re-entering the workforce. According to “Working Mother,” 2.6 million women in the United States hold bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degrees but do not work outside the home. That’s a virtual gold mine of talent.

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Compile a list of projects you have available and let volunteers weigh in on what would be the best fit based on their skill set. If a volunteer continually takes on substantial projects (redesigning your website, for instance), consider making them a committee chair or honorary board member to provide them something substantive to put on their résumé. Again, think about what could help them in the long run.

VolunteerMatch and The Acceleration Project (TAP) are two of the many places to find experienced volunteers who may be interested in a substantive volunteer experience but aren’t yet ready to return to the workforce.

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Chaay_Tee from Canva

Retired … and Not Loving It?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of Americans retire between ages 61 and 65 and not always by choice. “The lower actual age could be based on positive developments—that people end up having more money and more wherewithal to retire than they expected, or negative developments—that people are laid off, lose their jobs or have worse health than anticipated,” says Frank Newport, a Gallup senior scientist and former editor-in-chief of the Gallup poll (U.S. News & World Report, 2019). Recent retirees possess a wealth of talents and experience and may not be ready to quit the workforce just yet.

Volunteers Paid by Their Companies

Consider partnering with companies that offer volunteer paid time off (VTO). These programs typically require prior approval and oversight of an employee’s volunteering. You might find these volunteers to be more dependable with those checks and balances already in place.


Take internships to the next level with returnships, which allow adults who have taken a career break to refresh their skills and network of contacts. The idea has steadily been gaining momentum with businesses over the past few years but has yet to catch on with nonprofits.

Returnships are typically 12-week, paid programs that are structured in much the same way as an internship. If your organization already pays stipends for internships, you might want to add a similar opportunity for returnships. iRelaunch and Path Forward are two organizations that help companies structure returnship programs.

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Daniel Dash from Canva

Flex Workers

Maybe you have a budget for a specific project, but it’s not enough to fund a full-time staff member. Or you may have a one-time need for a specific level of expertise. That’s when flex workers can really save the day. According to a 2017 study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 36% of the U.S. workforce is already made up of freelancers, and freelancers are predicted to become the U.S. workforce majority within a decade. With so many qualified people to choose from, you have lots of options. They can be found through word of mouth, a staffing agency that focuses on marketing, such as The Creative Group, or freelancer sites such as Upwork.

Local Colleges

Need a marketing plan or a new social media strategy? Contact your local colleges and universities to find out if any business or communications departments would consider your organization for participation in a case study or capstone. Graduate-level programs in marketing are a great option for this.

Pro Bono (With a Generous Helping of ROI)

It’s always worth asking to find out if any marketing firms do pro bono work, but think about what you could offer them, as well. Have a big concert or fundraiser coming up? Ask whether agencies would like to use your event as a training ground for their newer employees or try out technology such as live streaming. Credit them on event materials, and it’s a win-win for everyone.

Online Resources

Working in marketing for a nonprofit can sometimes be an isolating experience. The majority of online resources about social media marketing are written for businesses, and nonprofit marketers are left scratching their heads when strategies don’t translate. It’s crucial to plug into networking groups, social media forums, and membership organizations to find out what other nonprofits are doing successfully.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
―Jane Howard

Thankfully, there are some very talented nonprofit marketers and bloggers who are willing to share what they’ve learned. While this won’t add people to your team, you’ll find a wealth of creative tips that will enable you to do more with less. Following are a few of my favorites:

If you’re a nonprofit marketer or fundraiser, you need the Bloomerang Blog in your life. Heard about a social media marketing trend but not sure if it would translate well to a nonprofit? Chances are they’ve covered it.

For some of the most comprehensive advice you can find about social media marketing for nonprofits, Buffer and Media Cause both provide a couple of great guides.

Several years ago Steven Shattuck, Bloomerang’s Chief Engagement Officer, wrote a terrific manifesto of sorts about content development, and why traditional sharing ratios don’t translate well to nonprofits.

Need help with your Twitter content? These three blogs (10 Twitter Best Practices for Nonprofits, 10 Nonprofit Twitter Accounts Doing It Right, 25 Twitter Tips for the Modern Nonprofit) provide some of the best examples of nonprofits that consistently get it right.

Finally, the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford is another great resource. They offer publications, webinars, and resources for nonprofit communicators.

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