Can nonprofits use Pinterest to change the world?

“Oh, you’re not on Pinterest? If you’re planning a wedding, you’re practically required to be on Pinterest,” quipped my wedding dress designer shortly after I got engaged early last year. I sighed, adding another line to my ‘wedding to-do’s’ list, but I eventually requested an invitation and joined in July 2011. My designer was right; it is an unbelievably useful tool to create blissful moodboards for your special day.

endless wedding daydream.

Besides inspiring DIY fantasies, what can Pinterest do for your nonprofit? Well, a lot. It can help connect you, your voice, and your organization with hundreds, if not thousands, of content-hungry users. Pinterest is not to be ignored. While many other social media tools skew toward the college-age male, the Pinterest audience is, well, me: female, age 25 to 44, with an appetite for gorgeous imagery and on-trend advice.  You know what else this audience does? They give.

Simply by looking at GlobalGiving’s Facebook Insights, we were able to determine that 60% of our fans already fall within Pinterest’s base. Facebook’s constantly changing interface seems to have made it more and more difficult to reach our fans, so we’re experimenting with Pinterest’s curated audience of our target demographic.

So what does this mean for nonprofits? We already know that users on Pinterest might be inclined to give to your cause, but how do you make them do it?  Well that’s just it. We’d like to suggest that you might set Pinning objectives to include many types of engagement; not just donations. Before giving, your audience wants to engage and see, quite literally, who you are: Kate Spade’s VP/Ecommerce, Johanna Murphy (while no, not a nonprofit) explains:
“We think that if you look at every social media channel and your ultimate goal is to drive immediate commerce out of it, you don’t get it. Again, it’s kind of the fuel for the overall fire to the brand that will then ultimately drive sales.”

Pinterest, through their heavily visual interface, is a great way to show your audience who you are, but  that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all about showing what your cause is. For example, one of the great things about our office is our “must love food” attitude, so we’re cultivating a list of recipes our staff has tried and adored (if you’re interested, my slow-cooker macaroni and cheese recipe won an office wide contest). We’re also curating Pinboards based on our motto of “a million little earth-changing ideas,” which translates to “earth-changing people,” “earth-changing style,” and “earth-changing words,” as well as a board called “earth-changing projects.” It’s only in this last board where we actually get into the work we do, but we do it in a way that’s easily digestible and friendly. No one there is necessarily asking you to do anything, but instead they’re saying “hey, look at this project where you can help save a baby cheetah.” Believe me, after six months of Pinning, I can honestly tell you that people love a baby cheetah.

We also added a “Pin it” button to all of your project pages to let our users add to their boards, and we’ve seen its use grow exponentially since we launched it. Our brand fits with Pinterest’s audience, feel, and market, and it’s an exciting way of introducing GlobalGiving to a new group of people who is already inclined to like us.

This doesn’t mean that all nonprofits are suited to put their brand on Pinterest. First, if you’re just barely trying to get your Facebook or Twitter presence organized, then we recommend you work on those and try to do them well. Second, make sure that the person who’s taking on Pinterest for your nonprofit ‘gets it;’ make sure that they’re a user first!  Pinterest users are already worried that a heavy brand presence on Pinterest will “pollute it,” so if you feel inauthentic, you’ll have done more harm than good anyway.  Finally, commit to at least trying it out with a few good experiments from which you can learn.

The secret of Pinterest success isn’t just creating another flood of mini press releases: it’s about figuring out who you really are, and allowing your supporters to find the many ways that your work connects, inspires, and engages them. This also means that you have to venture outside of your organization’s content (although I’m sure it’s wonderful) and find additional pins that can tie back to your larger story and vision. Repin your followers and the people you admire. You’ll be surprised how much users will want to engage with you if you do.

For example, if you’re an environmentally-focused nonprofit, you could start a board that pins natural and organic products for the home. If you’re an animal-focused nonprofit, create a board that shares adorable photos of pets.

So you want to get started? We recommend that before jumping in and addictively pinning, first think about how you’d define and measure success on Pinterest. It only makes sense to use Pinterest (or any new medium) if it’s going to help you meet your organization’s goals.

We’re walking through these steps from Katie Paine’s Measure What Matters to plan out our Pinterest experiment:

  • Use Your Mission to Define Your Objectives: Is Pinterest going to help you meet your organization’s goals? That depends! One of your objectives may actually involve reaching new audiences by demonstrating your brand’s personality. In that case, Pinterest might be a great fit.  If your objectives are solely to drive people to act or donate on your site, then you’ll need to make sure you know how to measure whether it’s working (so ultimately you can decide whether it’s worth the time).
  • Establish a Benchmark and Pick your Metrics: If your objectives are to engage new people, then Pinterest’s handy weekly emails might give you some good metrics on engagement: repins, new followers, likes, comments, and pins you’ve added.  If your objectives are more conversion-oriented, then you’ll need to identify what exactly you want people to do when they see your pins.
  • Pick a Measurement Tool: Pinterest’s weekly activity update might give you information you’ll need to measure engagement.  If you add a “Pin it” button to your own site, you’ll want to use Google Analytics to track how many people are adding your pins to their boards without you even knowing. (These people are your new favorite people.) If you have more robust conversion goals then you’ll need to use Google Analytics to measure the donations driven by Pinterest users.
  • Analyze Results and Make Changes: One of our core values is Listen.Act.Learn.Repeat. We encourage you to watch your metrics and make changes based on what you learn! If no one is repinning even your most helpful DIY tip,  sit back and look at why that might not be working.  Whatever changes you make, keep returning to your objectives.

As someone who has watched Pinterest grow wildly in the last six months, I am thrilled to see it take off. The content is getting richer, and more and more interesting people are adding to its wealth. Women have proved that we’re more than capable of dominating a social media platform, and I’m glad to see that this is the direction it’s taking. We are driving cause marketing in a stronger way than ever, and I’m proud we are a part of it.

We’ll keep you updated on our experiment, please tell us about yours!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Are you using Pinterest for your own organization? Do you have any tips? Who do you think is using Pinterest well?  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a recipe for this week’s chili cook-off. Got recommendations? Tag “@GlobalGiving Foundation” in your pin and the chili recipe I choose to make will get a $25 GlobalGiving gift card. It better be good, my crock pot mac and cheese is a tough act to follow.


Lee Neel

about 9 years ago

Excellent post with good solid advice. The one place I might differ in opinion slightly is where you say that if you are barely trying to get your Twitter and Facebook presence organized that you might focus on doing those well first. Facebook's "new" format has made it more challenging than ever for small pages - you really have to have work hard to get over that 1,000 followers hump to get good exposure. Right now Pinterest is still new enough that smaller organizations could get better traction faster on Pinterest. Depending upon the organization, I might suggest focusing on Twitter and Pinterest instead of Facebook.


about 9 years ago

That's a GREAT point, Lee. We have been debating internally about how to guide our nonprofit partners regarding Facebook in light of the new changes. We know that many of them are just getting the hang of Facebook (and are just getting to a point where there networks are on there and connected.) But we acknowledge (and are seeing for ourselves) that it's harder and harder to be heard as a Page. This is one reason we're starting to talk about Pinterest! I do think it would be interesting if some nonprofits JUST used twitter and Pinterest and were able to come up with creative ways to share their messaging with these two media alone. Anyone out there considering using Pinterest INSTEAD of Facebook?

Danielle Brigida

about 9 years ago

Great post! I think pinterest provides nonprofits an excellent way to provide resources to their supporters as well as share their message visually. Plus it makes sharing community content very easy!

Anna Silverman

about 9 years ago

This is fascinating, and really helpful. Thanks Global Giving!

Mandi @MakeMeSocial

about 9 years ago

"Besides inspiring DIY fantasies, what can Pinterest do for your nonprofit?" I think the most important word in the article is in that sentence - inspiring. Pinterest is a place where the photos of the work that your organization does, of the need that your organization helps meet, can inspire people to emotion, and then to action. Your organization can actively participate on the channel, reaching out and commenting on relevant images, seeking to connect and again, to inspire. Nonprofits should seek to pinspire people with pinteresting pins. No pun pintended.


about 9 years ago

Thanks Mandi - you always make us smile with your pithy AND funny insights.


about 9 years ago

Make that Pinsights


about 9 years ago

Don't sell yourself short. Pinterest is just in its infancy, people are just playing around. Like a lot of other social networks, it'll become useful for orgs ask they find creative ways to jump on board, then hopefully developers will start integrating those things into updates. I agree that you shouldn't expect direct donations right away from pinterest, but don't discount the power of foster loyal, engaged users. That'll bring them back to your site eventually as donors and Super Supporters.


about 9 years ago

Thanks for your feedback, Alison! I agree. Pinterest is still very young, and the people behind the scenes will work with its demand. It's already been through one update, and I think it will continue to grow and evolve. I do think Mandi is right though, that pinspiration (womp womp) is a key aspect. If your potential donor is moved by what they see built into your brand, they are far more likely to think of you the next time they want to give.


about 9 years ago

You mentioned in your article a weekly activity update: "Pinterest’s handy weekly emails might give you some good metrics on engagement: repins, new followers, likes, comments, and pins you’ve added." Where on Pinterest's website can you selection this option or get more information? Thanks!


about 9 years ago

Hi Kathryn! If you log into your account, you'll see your name in the top right corner of the page. If you hover over your name, you'll see a menu come up. When it does, click "Settings." You'll then see a button that says "Change Email Settings." Check and see if "Digest" is moved to "ON." If it is, you're in good shape! These are the emails summarizing your weekly activity, and you should be receiving them. Hope this helps. Let us know when you start an account; we'll be sure to follow you!


about 9 years ago

I think if Pinterest is utilised in the right way nonprofits could benefit in having an account. I have just set up one for WellFound and with our boards I have pinned pictures with captions trying to tell a story of how the provision of water has helped the communities we work in, using our tagline (Delivering Water Saving Lives) Delivering Water for one board, and Saving Lives for the other one. It isn't fully completed yet but have a look if you like: -WellFound: delivering water saving lives in Africa! and follow our work on twitter: @opwellfound cheers!


about 9 years ago

People do love baby cheetahs ;-) They love cute bulldogs too! I've been studying up on pinterest for my non-profit that's involved in higher ed. The Drake University adorbs bulldog board has quickly become one of their most popular (and one of my favourite!) great post, byt the way. Very useful!

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