The Argument for Content Curation for Nonprofits

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shared post example (blog)

Why your nonprofit needs to practice content curation

As a page manager on Facebook, you’re facing three large hurdles every day:

1.)The need to post quality content
2.)The desire to engage as many fans and supporters as possible
3.)The frustration over the organic reach of your posts (or lack thereof)

Fortunately, there is a content strategy that will address all three of these daily challenges. It’s called Content Curation.

Content curation is the practice of sharing other’s high performing content on your own Facebook page. Sometimes this is merely sharing a funny video or image that you think your fans would like as well. Or it’s sharing a trending, breaking news story that relates to your cause. (This strategy is also sometimes called “newsjacking” or “piggybacking”)

Page managers that practice content curation can post more quality content to their page and thus, reach and engage more of their fans and supporters. (We like to see pages posting two to five times a day so this will help you get to that target)

This strategy hinges on the fact that this content is already proven to engage users on Facebook. In turn posting this content on your page is low risk and highly likely to engage your fans as well. Think of it as a vetting system for content!

At this point, folks usually push back on this strategy. They’re concerned the approach feels too much like stealing, plagiarism or being dishonest to supporters.

“How can we be expected to take other people’s content and pass it off as our own?”

Facebook does not follow classic communication rules

The first thing we have to do is reframe the way we think about Facebook. Facebook is not a broadcasting platform, it’s not a soup box, it’s not a one-way communication tool. As such, classic communication rules don’t always hold up. In some instances, they are even flat out wrong or harmful to use on Facebook.

What Facebook is, is a social network. It is a community, a place for public conversions, a place for back and forth communications between your organization and your follows.

As such sharing content from other’s is not stealing, plagiarism or being dishonest.

Sharing content is normal and expected on Facebook

It’s time to reframe the sharing of other’s content, not as stealing, but as taking part in the social, community aspect of Facebook. Everyone does it, users expect it, so to be successful on Facebook you’ll need to become comfortable with it.

This isn’t just something for users either, most of the top pages on Facebook share other page’s and people’s content on their page.

In fact, some pages even thrive on only sharing other’s content. This is good news for organizations that struggle to create original content or struggle to create an enough of it on their own!

The fact is the majority of Facebook pages should have a mix of curated and original content. A rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule. 80% of your page’s content should be shared content and 20% your own original content.

Not sharing content could actually hurt your page

Reach and engagement aside, the fact that your page is not sharing other’s content could create ill will and negative feeling with your fans and supporters.

If your page is not taking part in this practice, it’s possible some users will notice it and get the wrong idea about your page and organization as a whole. They may think of your organization as being boastful, selfish or too good to take part in the Facebook community.

It’s clear to users when a page is sharing content, or not.

Moral of the story

Sharing content on Facebook is normal, expected and not taking part could hurt your page in the long run.

Making a point of sharing top performing content that relates to your cause can significantly increase the organic reach and engagement of your page. It also allows you to post more content to your page and fill in the holes when original content is not available.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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3 Facebook Policies You Need to Know About

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Facebook Policies

Keeping up with Facebook Policies

I think it’s safe to say we have all broken one of Facebook’s policies whether small or large at some point. We have had to jump through Facebook’s hoops to unlock our page or profile and receive the good graces of Facebook once again.

The problem is we didn’t know about the policy in the first place. We’re just attempting to keep up with Facebook’s changes and are doing the best we can. We’re a nonprofit for gosh-sakes! We aren’t trying to hurt anyone.

The problem is Facebook is a huge company. They don’t have the time to tease out who’s who, good intentions and honest mistakes. Facebook will work with you to right wrongs and clear up misunderstandings but it can take a while and in the meantime you’re down for the count.

This piece will flush out the top three Facebook policies you need to know about to prevent unnecessary pain and frustration.

Fake Profiles

The policy:

Facebook does its best to shut down fake profiles according to section four of its terms of use:

“Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

  • You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission
  • You will not create more than one personal account.”

Common mistakes:

Nonprofits most commonly break this rule when they create a special profile to access their organization’s page or ad account through. This profile and its login information are then shared with the rest of the team to give people access to the page.


If Facebook closes your fake profile, you can lose access to your organization’s Facebook page as well as well as any ad accounts tied to this profile. This is especially true if the fake profile was the only “user” on the page or ad account. This means you can lose access to any ad credits or ads data inside the account.


Don’t create or use a shared profile to access your organization’s page(s) or ad account(s). Beyond the consequences above there are numerous security concerns with this method.

Instead, simply add your teammate’s personal profiles to the page(s) and ad account(s). This is how Facebook wants you to give permission to different accounts and how the platform is designed to work.

Do note: personal profiles that have access to a Facebook page are not publicly linked to the page in any way.

How to add someone to a Facebook page.

How to add someone to a Facebook ad account.  

Another option is to use Facebook Business Manager to manage your organization’s page and ad account. Again you will be giving access to individual users not shared profiles.

Changing your Page Name

The policy

Facebook doesn’t freely allow page managers to change their page’s name once established.

Facebook doesn’t want a page to gain a number of likes under one name and then change the name of the page to something else. This can lead to user confusion, situations of bait and switch and fraud.

Once a page has over 200 likes all page name changes are by request only. You may only change the name of your page once. After that initial change, you will need to appeal directly to Facebook for any addition page name changes.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 4.07.14 PM

Common Mistakes

Most commonly nonprofits run into this issue when making small changes to their organization’s page name for clarity. They’ll make these changes not realizing there are limits and request processes to change a page’s name.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 4.06.56 PM


Your page’s name can be locked down and inaccessible to you.


Knowledge is king! Know that changing your page’s name is no small matter and you only have one easy shot at it. Think it through and make it count!

20% text rule

The policy:

Facebook only allows ad images to contain 20% text.

“Ads that have more than 20% of text in their image won’t be approved to run on Facebook or Instagram. Too much text can look like spam and make people think that your ad is low quality. Make sure to use the headline and body of your ad to tell people more about why you’re advertising and what you want them to do.”

Common Mistakes:

Submitting ad images that contain more than 20% text.

The Results:

The ad is not approved. (In some cases the ad will be approved for a short time and then pulled)

The Solution:

Use a grid tool checker to check all your ad images before your submit them for review. This extra step will save you time, effort and frustration over rejected ads.

Learn more about the 20% text rule and how to stay within it.

Links to relevant documents:

We strongly suggestion that you bookmark the following links or keep them someplace handy. There are many more policies we did not cover in this piece you will need to know. Again knowledge is power. The more you know, the less likely you are to mistakenly violate one of Facebook’s policies.

Community guidelines:

Page guidelines:

Advertising policies:

Facebook terms upon sign up:

Need more social mojo?

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Setting the Record Straight: Facebook’s Algorithm and Your Content

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Let’s talk about the notorious Facebook algorithm

If you manage a page on Facebook, you’ve probably had a rant (or few) about the news feed algorithm. The algorithm is complex, keeps changing, is never transparent and you never quite know where you stand.

If you research strategies for how to grow your page and increase engagement, you’ll find advice that is all over the map. Post more; post less; only post images and videos; only post in the morning; tell people to “Like or Share” on every post; never include “Like or Share”; run contests; don’t run contests; keep posts under 20 words; longer posts are the way to go, the list could go on and on.

The one thing you’ll hear over and over again is, “the algorithm has changed again.” What worked yesterday isn’t working today so you’ll need to change your strategy again.

This can be frustrating to say the least!

What if I told you it doesn’t have to be this complicated or confusing?

Sure, Facebook will make changes to the algorithm, and some strategies will work better than others, but keeping up with Facebook and keeping your audience engaged doesn’t have to be difficult.

This guide will put to rest some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding Facebook. We’ll learn what the algorithm is all about and explore the reasons why Facebook does the things it does. Hopefully, by the end, you will have a better understanding of how Facebook functions and how you can make the most of it.

Facebook wants you to succeed on the platform. Let’s look at how to make that happen.

Table of contents

  1. What is motivating Facebook when they change the algorithm?
  2. How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?
    1. Previous Interest
    2. Post Performance
    3. Your Page
    4. Type of Content
    5. Recency
  3. Serve your audience, not yourself
  4. Posting Secrets
    1. Repost what works
    2. Hard to spam
    3. Supporters don’t look at your page
  5. What this all adds up to

What is motivating Facebook when they change the algorithm?

One of the biggest misconceptions about Facebook is their intent. Many bloggers and social media trainers hold the belief that Facebook is against nonprofits. They believe that Facebook throttles the reach and engagement nonprofits receive on the platform to make them pay money to reach their fans.

This thinking is not only incorrect, but unfortunately, it also leads organizations to take a defeatist attitude towards Facebook.

What is true is Facebook is very loyal to their user base – as they should be! Facebook’s number one goal is to have its 1.5 billion users keep coming back to Facebook and spend more and more time on the site each day. In fact, their goal is quite similar to your goal. You too, want supporters to keep coming back to your content and spend time with it each day.

To do that, Facebook works incredibly hard to give their users the best content possible – and so do you! Giving users the best possible content is the algorithm’s job and understanding how it works and why Facebook continues to hone this system is essential to getting the most out of Facebook for your organization.

Does the algorithm do its number one job? Yes. If you look at Facebook usage numbers, you will see each month its users are coming back more often and staying longer. Does Facebook always get it right? Of course not, they’re human. But their intentions are good.

How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?

Understanding how and why Facebook makes changes to the news feed is the key to getting better at creating content that will help you accomplish more on the platform.

First off, it’s important to note that if it were not for the algorithm, your news feed would be completely overwhelming. Currently, Facebook can show roughly 300 posts in the user’s news feed each day. But due to the number of friends people have and pages they follow, Facebook has to choose from roughly 1,500 possible posts from that person’s network to show them.

That means the average post is only seen by 6.51% or less of that page’s fan base.

The algorithm has over 100,000 highly personalized factors that it uses to decide which users see what pieces of content. Luckily you only need to understand five concepts to understand the algorithm overall:

Previous Interest

The algorithm measures a user’s past interest by paying attention to what each user engages with over time. In making decisions on what content to include in a person’s newsfeed, Facebook wants to know whether the user has ever engaged with posts that are similar to the new one.

The more a person engages with your content on Facebook, the more your posts will show up in their news feed. This cycle helps pages build real relationships with Facebook supporters. Facebook makes these previous interest calculations for each user based on every post they have ever engaged with. So, your content strategies must take the interests of the individuals’ you aim to engage with into account as well.

Two of the most important questions you can ask yourself each time you post are “why will the people who see this engage with it?” and “what value will they get from engaging with it?”

There are a number of reasons people engage with content, but one reason dominates them all. People engage with content on Facebook because they want their friends and family to see them engaging with. For your posts to earn engagement, the act of engaging with it (liking, sharing and commenting) must provide value to your supporters.

Post Performance

Post-performance boils down to one maxim – the more users there are that engage with a particular post, the more likely other users will do the same.

When you post something that earns good initial engagement, Facebook takes this as a positive sign and will share it with even more of your audience’s news feeds.

In fact, early performance of a post might be the best predictor of whether other users will want to see and interact with your content.

Your Page

If other users have engaged with your previous posts, Facebook will be more likely to show users your current content. Facebook’s algorithm is continually judging your Page and the more your audience likes your stuff over time, the more likely Facebook will share all of your content more broadly.

One key strategy to help your page succeed in this way over time is to focus on sharing highly engaging content on your Facebook page. Some organizations have trouble doing more than press release-style posts, and that will hold them back the one time they have a great post to share.

Be sure to build off successes. Repost high-performing content.

Type of Content

There are several categories of Facebook content: status updates (simply text), links, photos, and videos. The algorithm makes a note of the kinds of content a person regularly engages with and then shows them similar content.

For example, if you, as a user, have engaged with a lot of baby photo posts from your friends, you will likely see a lot more photos (and probably baby photos) in your news feed in the future. If you get a lot of your news by clicking on link posts and going to the articles, Facebook will show you more link posts.

Different people like different types of content, which mean your job is to post a variety of content types. You want to engage all of your fans, no matter what type of content they prefer, so don’t be afraid to try all different types of content.


Some people think this refers to how recently the content was posted, but that’s not exactly the case. What the algorithm takes note of is the recency of post engagement. For example, a post may not get a lot of engagement right away, but as people start to engage with it more, the algorithm notices this, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the engagement cycle takes over.

No one can tell you how often to post or even how many times to post each day. Generally, more is better, but it will take some experimenting. The best way to determine this is to make use of the data Facebook provides in your page insights and use that to guide your posting behavior.

Serve your audience, not yourself

If I told you that Facebook is a social network, you certainly wouldn’t argue. But the truth of the matter is that Facebook is a platform of social networks. Users come to the site to connect with people, organizations, and content they care about. In short, to succeed as a page manager, you must serve your audience, not yourself.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of serving yourself as a page manager rather than your audience and supporters. What does this look like? Well, it looks a lot like using your Facebook page as a soapbox, talking at your audience, not with them.

Facebook is not a broadcasting tool; it’s a community tool.

To protect against this, bake your supporters into your content and posting strategy. Asking yourself these questions will help you head in the right direction:

  • What subjects do they care about right now? What are they already talking about and sharing that pertain to my cause?
  • What types of content do my supporters enjoy the most? I.e. Images? Videos? Articles?

These two simple questions will keep you in the right headspace to fully connect with and engage your supporters on their terms, where they are currently at.

The best way to answer these questions and keep a pulse on your supporters is to use the Inspiration and Timeline tools offered inside of ActionSprout. These tools quickly show you what your supporters are currently talking about and in what form(s) they consume their content.

Posting Secrets

Now that we understand the philosophy of using Facebook let’s look at some tangible ways to post better.

Repost what works

When you notice one of your posts over performing, repost it! We suggest reposting a piece of content as long as the reach and engagement are growing or the same as the original post. Once reach and engagement start to drop simply stop reposting.

Why repost?

When you repost a piece of content, it will reach, and, therefore, engage, a different slice of your audience than the first time you posted. In this way, you are increasing the reach and engagement of that post without having to spend a penny on ads.

When we say “reposting” we don’t mean deleting the old post and posting it anew. We simply mean resharing your very own high performing content like you would from another page.

Hard to spam

Now you may be thinking, “Isn’t this the same thing as spamming my fans?” No, it is not. It is actually relatively hard to spam your followers on Facebook. The Facebook algorithm is sophisticated enough to know that the content you are reposting is the same piece of content you posted before. Therefore instead of delivering it to the same audience as last time, the algorithm will look for new folks in your fan base that would also enjoy that piece of content.

As we said up front, Facebook’s number one goal is for users to keep coming back to Facebook. Delivering them spammy content is not a way to do so. Therefore, Facebook doesn’t want to spam your followers as much as you do.

Supporters don’t look at your page

The next question is usually, “won’t it look strange to have multiple of the same post on my Facebook page?” The answer is, yeah it might, but no one will visit your page to notice. The thing is supporters don’t spend time on your Facebook page. In fact they rarely, if ever, visit it.

Users spend most, if not all, of their time on their own news feed. That is where they see and interact with your content. And by reposting your high performing content multiple times you ensure that more of your supporters will see your content in their news feeds.

What this all adds up to

We’ve covered a lot of material! Hopefully, you understand Facebook a little better and have some new ideas and strategies to try. Let’s wrap this up with the core idea: Facebook wants you to be successful. Your success means more great content on Facebook. Great content is good for users, and it’s good for business!

I’ll say that again: Facebook wants you to succeed at creating great content. Their entire platform depends on having good content they can use to fill countless hours of their 1.23 billion users’ time.

So, if you focus on creating and posting great content that number one serves your audience, you’ll find Facebook really can be a highly effective channel for reaching, engaging and capturing supporters.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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Can Facebook Advertising be Effective for Your Cause?

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How Facebook Advertising was used to find a lost dog’s family

For some time, we had watched a surprisingly small number of nonprofits use Facebook ads to effectively spread their message and build their community of supporters. This made us wonder what would happen if a broader community of nonprofits had access to these tools.

Thanks to support from Facebook, ActionSprout launched a campaign to give 2,000 nonprofits the resources to experiment with Facebook advertising for three months.

During the first month of the project, we saw many amazing stories, but one story really stood out and touched our hearts.

Sally Baker Williams from the Humane Society of the Ozarks received a call from a nearby shelter about a found lost dog.

“After receiving the call and an email with [the dog’s] photo from the nearby shelter, I searched for the dog/family in our data management software via the chip number, but was unsuccessful in locating him.

The original microchip was from my organization, but it had not been registered and there were no adoption records due to some problems with record keeping a few years back. I was able to narrow down the time frame via the chip number, but still unable to locate any old records. That is when I decided to turn to social media.”

With the help of her Facebook ad credits, Williams used her ads account to spin up a boosted post in the hopes of reaching the dog’s family.

She set up a targeted audience that ranged in age from 18‒65, with an overlapping distance radius to cover the four-county area that they served.

She set a budget of $175.00 over a seven-day span for the ad, and hit go.

“Within just a few hours, the post had reached over 5,000 people and we had located the owner!

We only spent $2.81 of the budget.”

Let’s reflect on that for a moment.

Williams was able to use Facebook ads and find a lost dog’s family in just a matter of hours. For as little as $2.81, she had reached over 5,000 people and reunited a dog with his family.

Everyone involved got to go home that day with a happy ending.

What makes this even more amazing is the fact that Williams and the Humane Society of the Ozarks had very little past experience with Facebook advertising prior to this:

“We did our first trial Facebook ad in November 2014 for an event. I think it garnered some interest, but it was very much a beginner’s first effort. I [had] made a couple of attempts at running Facebook ads around four years ago, but quickly felt overwhelmed in trying to figure out how to successfully do it.”

The Facebook ad credits have given Williams and the Humane Society of the Ozarks the opportunity and resources to revisit Facebook advertising in a powerful way:

“Our experience [with the Facebook ad credits] has been overwhelmingly positive! The ad I ran for year-end giving had good responses [and] an ad for an elderly dog looking for a home was widely shared and he was adopted. Some other dogs were promoted and found homes swiftly. We also have a membership drive ad running right now that is doing excellent and we have new memberships coming in!

I would like to sincerely express my gratitude for this program. I am learning with each ad I create, the ads are effective, and I am obtaining statistics I can present to my board of directors in order to adjust our budget to accommodate future ads.”

Overall, ActionSprout has been humbled by the experience of this project. We’re only a month and a half into the ad credits project, and look forward to receiving more success stories like this.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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How to Grow Newsletter Subscriptions on Facebook

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Grow Newsletter Signups with These Actionable Strategies

A popular reason that nonprofits run social actions is to grow newsletter subscriptions. And with good reason! On Facebook they have hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of fans and supporters that feel untapped and not fully engaged in the cause. Sure, they see and engage with your content on Facebook on and off, but it’s not the same as receiving a weekly newsletter in their inbox.

So, how do you take the fans and supporters that you have on Facebook and turn them into newsletter subscribers?

1. What’s in it for me?

First off, why should they sign up for your newsletter? We all receive too many emails as it is. So why should they sign up to receive even more? What can you offer them?

Your supporters have busy lives. Why should they take the time of their day to open and read your newsletter? What makes your newsletter unique or special?

This means that you can’t simply say, “Sign up for our newsletter,” and call it a day. You will get very few new subscribers this way. Instead, you need to communicate the value of your newsletter:

  • Will they receive news and updates that they can’t get anywhere else?
  • Are there “membership perks”?
  • Is this the best way to stay in the loop with your organization and cause?
  • How fun and/or interesting is your newsletter?
  • Do you have any glowing reviews that you can share?

Think about these five questions and try to answer them in your appeal.

2. Clear audience and goal

This one is pretty simple but often overlooked. Who is your newsletter intended for? And, what is its goal? Answering these two questions will help you to frame the appeal and decide who to target when you push it out.

3. Clear call to action

Your call to action should be clear and straightforward. There should be no question about what you are asking folks to do. To this end, make sure that your action only contains one call to action that you repeat again and again.

In this case, you are only asking supporters to sign up for your newsletter. Any further calls to action can wait until the post-action message or your follow-up email. Your number one goal right now is for your supporters to sign up for the newsletter.

4. Compelling image

Facebook is a very visual platform, therefore your action should have a compelling image to accompany it and make it stand out in the busy News Feed. When choosing or creating an image, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • When applicable, images with text overlay tend to perform better than those without. Pixlr and Pablo are both easy-to-use tools that allow you to add text to any image. (Do keep the 20% text rule in mind.)
  • Another important factor is the size of your image. The best dimensions for News Feed and action images are 1200 x 627. Pixlr can help you resize your images.

5. The pieces of an effective action

The following attributes are found repeatedly in over-performing actions from a wide range of Pages. They are no less true for your newsletter action. You must convince and persuade supporters to stop scrolling through Facebook and sign up for your newsletter now. If you can’t get them to stop scrolling and take action, then you have lost them.

  1. Emotional – Must evoke an immediate emotional response. I must feel compelled to get involved and sign up.
  2. Solvable – Must feel like my action can really make a difference. How can signing up for your newsletter help me further the cause?
  3. Urgent – It must require an immediate response. I feel like it will be too late if I stop to think or come back later. I must take action now.
  4. Identity – Must be something that I want my friends to identify me with. Something I want—no need them to see me do. It defines me.
  5. Make a clear ask – Don’t confuse people or make them wonder how to get involved. Make the ask visible and obvious. In other words don’t bury the ask, state it up front and use a compelling hook.

Need more social mojo?

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The Art of Storytelling: Telling Stories that Matter

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Short Story Long, Diving into Storytelling 

Nowhere are stories more important than in the nonprofit sector. Also, nowhere is it easier to find stories than in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits often do serious work and it can be hard to recognize your great stories when your head is always down working on a plan to save your little corner of the world. But telling stories is the most powerful way to communicate your mission, successes and failures—yes, failures.

Stories are one of the few things that we humans do universally, across time and across culture. They have been used to shape culture and morals, recount history and simply entertain. Our unique ability to tell stories has been with us for ages and is a part of our DNA. It makes sense to leverage something so ingrained in the human experience.

We will do our best to help you craft your own stories and leverage your storytelling power using a few simple concepts and a couple of written exercises.

What a story is and what it is not

From a mechanical standpoint, a story is a series of events with a beginning, middle and end. This definition, equally factual and banal, leaves out a few key elements.

A story shows transformation, a story makes your audience feel, and a great story is relatable—we can all understand it because we all share the experience to one degree or another. And stories don’t need to be long to be effective:

I gave my very good friend of 30 years a couch to sleep on for a month, because his 27-year marriage was coming to an end after an epiphanic heart attack, immediately followed by a triple bypass, which gave him a new perspective on happiness.

This is a pretty extreme story of transformation. Why is this story powerful? Transformation. Feeling. Relatability.

What a story is not

Stories are not rants. If I had told you how horrible my friend’s wife—now ex-wife—was, then that would be a rant. It may be filled with anecdotes, but it isn’t a story.

Stories are not journalism. Journalism is intended to recount events and tell the facts. Yes, there are some stories in journalism, but the two are not synonymous. (For more about journalism, see the link below.)

Stories are definitely not academic writing. Academic writing is designed to be void of emotion and personal experience, and just deliver hard truths and data. It is fine to use data in stories; in fact, it makes the data more memorable.


You have great stories

At this point, you might be thinking…

“I’m not sure if I have good stories…”

You do have good stories; you just need to dig them out! The reason you feel this way is because you are so close to your organization. It seems ordinary because you see it, and do it, every day. Your organization is made of people who volunteer, who work, who donate, who receive—all for the same mission but for their own reasons. This is where it gets interesting. Show the humanity of your organization.

“Nothing ever happens that anyone would want to hear about.”

The little things can be very interesting. What do we remember about the movie Office Space? The red stapler! The passive-aggressive guy with his stapler is way more memorable than any other part of the story. Why? Because his struggle against the insurmountable force of his apathetic boss resonates with all of us. His persisting battle imbues the one thing we all share: tiny crusades for a crumb of peace and happiness against the maelstrom of modern living.

“But I want to show the best side of our organization.”

You should, but vulnerability is authentic. The greatest irony of life is that the difficult moments are what make life worth living. We are forced to live more fully when we struggle. Besides, how boring would Harry Potter be if everything went his way all the time and life was peachy-keen for the boys and girls at Hogwarts? You must tell the story of your failures, uphill struggles and how you conquered them (or failed to).


If you are not telling stories because you’re afraid of offending people or getting sued, don’t worry about it. Just ask for permission or change the names and specific locations to protect their identities.

“I couldn’t afford child care during my undergrad, so I occasionally took my shy 6-year-old daughter to school. We were sitting together in the front row of a packed auditorium, me with my notebook and she with her Powerpuff Girls coloring book. Professor Simmons, a young and long-haired sociologist, was lecturing on communications in micro culture when he singled her out as an expert in what he called “kid language.”

She knew he was talking to her. She froze for a moment and then looked up at me like a lamb that knew she was heading to the dinner table.

Not quite knowing how to respond, I just told her not to worry and “just go back to coloring.”

She put her head down and started to sob while trying to finish her picture.

There was a simultaneous “Awwwww” from every girl in the room, which just made things worse.

Is this story true? Yes. Was Professor Simmons a sociologist? Also yes. But his name wasn’t Simmons. He knows who he is. We’ve joked about this incident; in fact, I brought my now adult daughter to his office one afternoon to bring it full circle.


Tell the truth and you don’t have to remember anything. ~ Mark Twain

How many times have you been at a party and somebody started telling a story and suddenly the story took an unbelievable turn? You didn’t need to fact-check them—you knew that the teller didn’t know where to go with the story and just made up the last part, at which point they lost all credibility.

You must maintain the truth; people can often see a manufactured story a mile away. Maintaining the truth doesn’t mean that you need to recall every little detail and everything said. The little details are not that important—they can be left out or just made up, so long as they fit or make the image more vibrant.

When I met her, she was sitting on the university lawn, barefoot, reading Irish poetry and drinking tea from an NPR mug.

Do I remember that it was Irish poetry? Or that it was an NPR mug? Nope. But those details don’t matter. And yet they can be used to paint a vivid picture of who this person is.


Lawrence of Arabia: Who am I? Where am I from?

Finding Nemo: Trust each other

Romeo and Juliet: Love knows no bounds

We can all relate to these themes. We can identify with these characters and their struggles. These themes are simple and are woven into the story without ever explicitly stating the theme. Why is it not explicitly stated? Because the writers trust the intelligence of the audience.

What it the theme of your organization? This is different from the story of your organization, as in exercise No. 4, which is seen below. Is the theme trust? Bringing people together? Acknowledge your theme and use it to relate the stories to your audience, and trust them to get it.

Find your stories

Keep a journal, even if it’s just sticky notes or scribbles on scrap paper. When things happen, jot them down. Anecdotes are the seeds of stories.

Look inward. What have you struggled with? What are the failures? How did you overcome them? Is your organization the underdog? Why? Did you beat Goliath? How?

Leverage your supporters and volunteers. You have a huge network of people with their own unique experiences and they would love to tell their stories.

Story-finding exercises

Answer these questions and keep answering them until you run out of answers. For each, jot down anything that comes to mind: anecdotes, people involved, setting, time frame, etc. Look for extremes, find the quirks.

  1. My org is _____________.


  1. My supporters are __________.


  1. My org was _____________.


  1. ________ is the story of my org.


  1. ________ is the theme of my org.
  1. My org’s biggest flaw is ________.
  1. I wish my org was like _______, but it is really like ______.


These things will alienate your audience. Really, who wants to hear a story that starts with…

“I left my winter clothes at my sorority house back at Brown. I’ll just have to buy new ones when I get to Aspen…” said a young, model-thin girl at a group interview for a job at a big name tech company.

“Well, I took a job at a terrible Mexican restaurant because I can’t afford to buy groceries,” replied the Arab Texan who attended a small state school. He was the odd man out in a room thick with the scent of the Ivy League.

In short, don’t:

  • Brag
  • Be too cool for school
  • Name-drop or place-drop

Also don’t:

  • Use clichés like: “The student became the teacher”
  • Be predictable if you can avoid it


  • Show the stakes; set the stakes at the top of the story
  • Make us care about the characters (yes, you, your org and your volunteers are characters)
  • Show how much you care and how far you’re willing to go
  • Show why the journey matters

Key takeaways

  • Find the stories, look for extremes and quirks
  • Leverage your people
  • Find the theme
  • Be honest but don’t sweat the small details, or use them to your advantage
  • Ask permission or simply change the names
  • Take notes and more notes

Want to take the next step? Apply what you just learned to your calls to action. Here’s how.

For more about journalistic writing.

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Profile vs. Page vs. Ad Account vs. ActionSprout

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Using Facebook ads means juggling a few different accounts. You have your personal profile, your organization’s Facebook Page, your Facebook ad account and possibly an ActionSprout account as well. Maintaining these four accounts can quickly become confusing!


The goal of this piece is to define each of these accounts and how they relate to one another.

Your Personal Profile

Your personal Facebook profile is your key to the kingdom. This is the account through which you will access all of the rest. You need your personal profile to log into Facebook, and to access your organization’s Facebook Page and Facebook ad account. You will also need this to authorize and use an ActionSprout account.

Note: You can access your Facebook Page through the personal profile that you use every day. You will not need to create a separate profile used to log in and access your Page.

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Your Organization’s Facebook Page

This is your organization’s “real estate” on Facebook. This is where you’ll advocate for your cause as your organization and connect with supporters. For the most part, you cannot do certain things as your Page. You cannot join a Facebook group as your Page or use ActionSprout as your Page. Mostly, your organization’s Page is just for publishing and engaging with people through the content that you post.

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Your Facebook Ad Account

This is the account through which you will run your ads. Facebook ads are not created or managed through your Facebook Page. Likewise, having admin or advertising privileges to your organization’s Facebook Page does not mean that you have default access to the ad account. You must still be granted permission to the ad account.
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Ad accounts are created and owned by individual users, not Pages. Once you have an ad account, you can name it and give it a primary payment method. This is what makes it “personal” or “professional.” Your “Page’s” ad account has simply been given the same name as your Page and is linked to your organization’s credit card.  

Think of it as your advertising bank account on Facebook. A bank account can be personal or professional. Until you name it and give it funds, it just is.

Through this one ad account, you will be able to run ads for all the Pages on which you have advertising permissions. (When creating an ad, you will be prompted to choose on which Page you’d like to run the ad.)

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Or, you can set up different ad accounts for each Page that you manage. This can be helpful if each Page has a separate team that will be helping you run the ads.

How you set this up is entirely up to you.

Please note: Whoever has access to the ad account in question has access to your ad credits. That means that your whole team can help create and manage your ads, not just the person who applied for or received the credits on behalf of your organization.

Here are some helpful links:

  • If you need help applying your ad credits to your account, or need help creating and managing ads, follow the steps in these videos:

Your ActionSprout Account

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ActionSprout is separate from Facebook. To access your ActionSprout account, you’ll visit the ActionSprout website at and log in.

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Even though ActionSprout is connected to your Facebook Page, you cannot access your ActionSprout tools through or through your Facebook Page. Nor does ActionSprout exist inside your Facebook ad account.

Think of ActionSprout as an addition or accessory to your organization’s Facebook Page. It allows you to do more through Facebook but does not replace your Facebook Page or Facebook ad account.

Please note: You will access ActionSprout via your personal Facebook profile just like you access your organization’s Facebook Page through your personal profile. Once logged in, you will select the Facebook Page that you’d like to work on. This does not mean that ActionSprout will be connected or posting to your personal profile.

Inside your ActionSprout account, you’ll find a tool called SmartAds. This tool does not replace your Facebook Ads Manager. It can, however, help you to automate some of the ads process and make things easier on you, especially if you are new to Facebook advertising.

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SmartAds is not required to use ActionSprout or your ad credits. It is not how you access your ad credits. It is simply an additional tool at your disposal that can help make the ads process a little bit easier.

You can learn more about SmartAds here:

ActionSprout goes far beyond just Facebook ads though. You can use this tool to collect donations on Facebook, run petitions, collect supporter names and email addresses, track the success of your Page, curate content and more.

For an overview of ActionSprout:

Hopefully, this piece has given you a better idea of the accounts that you’ll use to manage your ad credits.

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Using Rhetoric to Change Hearts and Minds

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Using Rhetoric to Change Hearts and Minds

Rhetoric: Words that Change Hearts and Minds

This is not a comprehensive guide to rhetoric; it is, however, a good place to start for nonprofits posting on Facebook, social media at large and blogs. We cover some basic structures, theories and techniques that are specifically useful for targeting people using these channels.

Before we get started…

A Note on Writing Well

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
~William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Nowhere is the above statement truer than on social media. People are extremely busy and are constantly trying to dodge an onslaught of ads and spammy content while sifting on tiny screens through a density of information that makes the Library of Congress look like a cluttered bedside table.

Doing away with clutter is your number one mission in posting online. This is not to be confused with simply saying less. You need to convey the same or more information by distilling your idea and choosing your words, punctuation and images wisely. Reading Zinsser’s book will help; it is short and cheap—if not free as a PDF online.

Secondly, think Hemingway not Tolstoy. Hemingway is attributed with the following six-word story, in which a lot is said with a few very carefully chosen words:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Now down to business.

What Is Rhetoric?

It is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, and especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. It is the way we use language to change the world.

One of the criticisms here is that anyone can be convinced of any idea because a fantastic argument has been made. Yes, these techniques can be used for commercialism and evil—we see this every day.

Some may simply try to argue rather than speak and write plainly. To avoid rhetorical techniques is a more dangerous form of rhetoric. Thus, you cannot avoid using it, you cannot avoid hearing it, you cannot avoid reading it; and so you must study it.

That last phrase was a short anaphora; more on that later.

Structure of the Argument

This is how you move the reader along logically to take them where you want them to go. Most often, when users write a post, article, action or any other piece of text, they go about it improvisationally. Improv is great, but it is much improved with a logical and tested framework.

Inverted Pyramid

Rhetoric graph

This is a writing technique found in journalism. It works well with Facebook and other social platforms because it puts the nuts and bolts of the article at the top and hooks the reader from the start. There is no real need to go any further than the first or second paragraph because you got the point. This structure forces you to get to the point quickly.

This works well on Facebook because everyone sees the first bit of the post. You decide whether they stick around to read the rest or keep scrolling. So get to the point right away and hook them in!



Rhetoric sermon

The sermon is a centuries-old, rhetorical, pre-Middle Ages structure, rooted in the church, and is thus most refined and extremely powerful. And no one has mastered this structure as well as Martin Luther King Jr.

A brilliant and less famous example can be found here. You will see that he follows the structure to the letter.

Why should you study the sermons? Because when writing actions, petitions and so on, you can form your argument on a solid foundation. This structure is used for stump speeches, and modern politicians frequently cite books, documents and stories other than religious texts. You should too.

Sermons contain six parts:

The Theme: the speaker states the topic, sometimes alludes to it.
The Protheme: an introduction; traditionally, the speaker references the Gospels.
The Dilation on the text: the explanation of the above.
The Exemplum: a story or parable to hammer the point home.
The Peroration: lessons learned from the above.
The Closing: an exhortation to do good and a blessing of some kind, as we will see later from John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country…” at the end of his inaugural speech.

What you write, regardless of the structure you use, should be short. This cannot be emphasized enough. Only deliver the information needed to make your argument. Flourishes and clever turns of phrase should be left out until the work is done. Then, and only then, can you go back and add a little flavor. You could do the entire sermon structure in six sentences if you are clever about it.


Telling you to know your audience is not helpful. The fact is, you probably don’t know your audience—and that’s expected. You may have some general idea of who they are, but you do not have communicative economy* unless you are talking to people in your industry or with a shared hobby that you all know well.

A general solution to address the lack of communicative economy is to write for someone who is not close to the audience—perhaps your grandparents. If the term or phrase would confuse your grandparents, explain it in short and simple terms. If it would offend your grandparents, leave it out. This way, you are not pandering to anyone and yet everything that needs an explanation gets it and nothing more.

Most importantly: don’t say what you want to say; say what your audience wants to hear. This way, you get the message across in terms that they can relate to. In short, meet them on their level.


Rhetoric jfk

With a few exceptions, we can all agree that kittens are cute. This is an enthymeme; it is the point on which we can all agree. And so many of our evergreen arguments continue because we cannot agree on the enthymeme. The enthymeme is the foundation of a logical argument—its starting point. It is the point on which we can all agree and thus it doesn’t need to be stated.

“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
~ John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

The enthymeme is that we should make the world a better place. Put it like this: as a logical statement, A: We must make the world a better place; B: The world is worse because of poverty; and C: We must address poverty. Or, like this: “Can’t we agree that we should make the world a better place?” Then President Kennedy led the listeners toward his famous call for service, and the final enthymeme in his speech.

How do you define your enthymeme so that you can lead your reader to where you want them to be?

First, assume that your audience will not agree with you. Then, work backwards until you can start with a shared assumption. Finally, build a logical argument to lead your reader to where you want them to go.

Logical Fallacy

Logic relies on syllogisms; these are the building blocks of your argument. Logical fallacies break down these syllogisms. It pays to know a few so that you can build stronger ones.

First, you might remember this sort of logical chain from school: “All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal.” You can string these along and make the chain longer—this is how you lead the reader. This is simple logic and a terribly boring way to make an argument, but it builds the frame of your rhetoric. Also, it is a useful tool to see if your argument makes sense.

And now…

The great fallacies:

Asserting the Consequent: if A = B, then B = A. No. For example, if all squares are parallelograms, then all parallelograms are squares. No, a rectangle is also a parallelogram. The economy tanks when we vote for the career politician, thus a vote for the career politician will tank the economy. Maybe, maybe not. As you can see, it is easy to poke holes in this.
Causation vs. Correlation, the Post-Hoc Fallacy: Have you ever heard something like this: “Since he has become president, gas prices have tripled!” You may or may not be able to attribute B to A. It will rally your base but will not convince anyone else.
Argumentum ad Hominem: Attacking the speaker not the speaker’s ideas. As above, it rallies the hardcore base, and will likely turn people against you.
Hasty and Sweeping Generalizations: The former is making a generalization based on too little data to hold up. We see this all the time in the media: “Tuna gives you cancer!” because one study showed that a few people got cancer while on a special tuna diet. The latter is making a categorical generalization.

Again, we can look to the media, and the presidential talking points, for a thousand sweeping generalizations. Both are easily destroyed by a single contrary data point.

There are many, many more, but these are the big ones. Just don’t do it.


That was a heady article.

This was by no means comprehensive, but it will get you in the right direction.

Here are the big takeaways:

  • Keep it short.
  • Choose your words wisely so that you can say a lot with very little.
  • Use a solid foundation to structure your argument; journalistic for short posts with the lede right at the beginning, or sermons for longer actions, articles and petitions.
  • Study the great writers and speakers to see how they did it. Yes, this is nerdy, but the best are the best for a reason.
  • Write to your readers in terms that they can understand and relate to. Meet them where they are.
  • Make a logical framework for your argument.
  • Avoid the fallacies.
  • Leave out the fluffy language until you are done. It’s like trying trying to hang a picture in the living room before putting up the sheetrock.

*Communicative economy is the knowledge shared by the entire audience and thus doesn’t need to be stated—not to be confused with common knowledge.

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The Keys to a Memorable Facebook Post Every Time!

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Memorable Facebook Post

So what makes a memorable Facebook post?

A team of researchers set out to study the memorability of Facebook posts. This may seem like a silly thing to study, but the results are huge.

They found that a carefully constructed post isn’t memorable. Period.

In fact, the participants in the study scored as amnesic when trying to recall crafted content from news, ads, books and the human face. Whereas “spontaneous social elaboration” (just conversationally riffing on a topic) was remembered significantly better and for a longer period of time.

Let me repeat that another way:

Your spontaneous Facebook post about the mundane thing you did yesterday afternoon is more memorable than the post that you and your team spent a week carefully crafting.

Your “mundane post” is even more memorable than the human face—a thing we have been evolutionarily programmed to recognize for our safety and survival over the past millennia!

Think about that…

email Memorable Facebook Post

More findings

  1. Text that is designed to be complete, like a headline, is remembered better than sentences drawn from the body text of articles.
  2. Text that makes social commentary is significantly more memorable than breaking news.
  3. Finally, it also seems that content written casually, without professional or perhaps any editing, is especially memorable.

What does it all mean?

Carefully crafting every post, especially when done by a team of people who all want their fingerprints on the work, makes things worse.

No matter how hard a team tries to sound authentic, they don’t. The human brain can tell; subconsciously. So content should be written by a single person with a set of rules to guide their work.

Does this mean that you should go nuts and post willy-nilly?

No. There is a time for carefully crafted work: actions, petitions and so on.

But, what it does mean is that your organization could really benefit from a strategy shift if all of your content is pored over by a committee.

What you should do

  • Develop a set of guidelines to direct your efforts
  • Leave room for fun content
  • Post at least 3–5 times a day
  • Curate content using your ActionSprout Inspiration feed
  • Select a person on your team to post
  • Trust them to do a good job and let them do their job
  • Come together on the posts that matter: actions, ads and so on

If you want to know more about how the studies were conducted and why these posts were so much more powerful, or if you’re just a nerd like me, you can read the full study.

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Living With the 20% Text Rule

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space TEXT 20% text rule

Living with the 20% text rule and what you can do about it

We are all quite familiar with the 20% text rule at this point. It isn’t perfect, it’s sometimes inconsistent and it isn’t going away. So how do we live with it? What is and isn’t allowed? How do we use it to make our ad images more impactful?


  1. We will touch on design theory a little bit here, but not too much to weigh you down.
  2. You do not need a dedicated design team or Photoshop.
  3. As we will see, the 20% text rule is a good thing. Constraints, oddly enough, will make your ad more powerful because you are forced to get to the most refined version of your ideas.

Why is it Inconsistent?

Facebook assesses images using a combination of algorithm and manpower. The algorithm assesses the image using a grid system, and a few images that confuse the system for one reason or another get assessed by an actual person. Thus the inconsistency.

The Rules

  1. The 20% text rule applies to everything that is included in the ad. It applies regardless of whether it’s a plain ad, boosted post or cover image. 
  2. Your text will be assessed to ensure that there is no offensive or debasing language. Keep it honest and respectful, and you’ll do just fine.
  3. If the actual product in a photograph has text on it, then that text is allowed because it is not a part of the ad but rather a part of the image. However, the system sometimes doesn’t recognize it as separate from other text.
  4. Text in logos counts as text. For nonprofits, including a logo sometimes reduces the engagement with the ad because it feels “produced” or “commercial.”
  5. Keep your text simple and short… very short. Or, even better, just don’t use text at all. Your image is probably going to be seen on a small device by someone who doesn’t have all the time in the world. So if your text is small and/or long, it will get scrolled over as if it never existed.

Text vs. Image

The image is by far the most important part of the ad itself. It is the hook and it needs to be sharp. The text just reinforces the message conveyed by the image. This implies three things:

  1. The image needs to be of high quality, relevant and impactful.
  2. The text must bolster the image.
  3. You need to have your message worked out ahead of time. Your message defines the copy and the image.

This means that the image must convey your message, so you need to have that worked out first. Because of the way that the News Feed is designed, the image is much bigger and more prominent than the text. The fact that more than 90% of content is viewed on mobile devices further bolsters the prominence of images.

The 20% text rule emphasizes the importance of imagery and forces nonprofits to be better storytellers, which is a good thing—and the subject of a future post.

What is this Grid Thing?

The grid is the easiest way for a computer/human team to review the thousands upon thousands of ad images submitted on a daily basis. It is actually quite simple: if your text or part of your text falls into a box of the grid, then that box counts toward that 20% limit. (5 boxes containing text = 20% text.)

Let’s illustrate this with an ad for a fictional nonprofit: Zer0-G. We encourage inner city youth to explore space and astro science. For this example, I will use Photoshop (but, again, you do not have to use Photoshop). Facebook offers a great grid tool that anyone can use here.

Message: You can achieve amazing things with hard work and wise decision-making. Even if you come from an impoverished neighborhood.

Copy: YES YOU CAN (Note that the copy is very short, embodies the idea of our message and mission, and has no punctuation because no punctuation feels more sincere.)


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Put the grid on it.

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Remember: only five boxes or less (in any direction or combination) may contain text. We also don’t want to obscure our spaceman (or woman).
space grid colored 20% text rule

Let’s lay out our text in a clear and impactful format. Note:

  1. The word “YOU” is in color to make it stand out among all the others.
  2. All the text is in uppercase so that it is easier to line up in blocks and so that the lower part of a lowercase “y” will not hang below a line (which would count as another box).
  3. There’s a stark contrast in color.
  4. The text looks “left-heavy.” Having a balanced image would be great, but in this case it is deliberately jarring.

space TEXT 20% text rule

Final image sans the grid:

space done 20% text rule

Also note that I have not discussed the ad copy itself. The character constraints in the ad also force the same refinement of ideas and force you, the creator of the ad, to get to the point and make your point sharp. This makes your ad stronger, hooks more users, and the user has a better experience.

Constraints can be good!

To get you started here are some helpful tutorial videos on using Canva and photoshop. These are both powerful image tools that can make a big difference in your content.




Key takeaways:

  1. The Facebook 20% text rule is here to stay because it makes the user experience better.
  2. Too much text is hard to read and distracting from your awesome image, especially on mobile—where it is most likely to be seen anyway.
  3. Not every image needs text.
  4. If you do decide to include text, keep it short, keep it simple and make it pair well with the message and image.
  5. All your images must conform to the rule.
  6. Use the Facebook grid tool to verify that your image makes the cut.
  7. And, once again, remember that constraints can be good.

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