How to Use #Hashtags Effectively

If social media is about supporter engagement and reaching out to your nonprofit audience (and believe us: it is), Twitter is like the hand you’re extending. And hashtags expand your reach.

Twitter hashtags are essentially a keyword phrase or name preceded by a pound sign (#) that ties tweets from other users with the same hashtag together. Anyone with a Twitter account can add their two cents to a trending discussion with a hashtag. Plus, anyone interested in a given topic can easily find a chorus of commentators by searching for the appropriate hashtag using Twitter Search.

Thus when you’re in Twitter territory, a tweet such as “Best recipe ever #Chocolate“ and “#Chocolate Lovers’ Festival will benefit Good Faith Academy of Austin“ are intrinsically linked, at least when it comes to search. Through the #Chocolate hashtag, searchers will find tweets with recipes and chocolate-themed events, among many others.

But note the divergent subject matter. Your nonprofit can use hashtags to promote a fundraising event, nurture a discussion relevant to your mission or highlight one of your organization’s achievements. But it needs to be more specific than #Chocolate to do all of that.

Keep reading to learn how your nonprofit can use hashtags effectively.


It’s crucial that you’re aware of hashtags already in use to avoid confusion or a PR nightmare. Search for your proposed hashtag before your nonprofit promotes it, and don’t use it if other discussions pop up. Otherwise your nonprofit will end up in a PR nightmare like Kenneth Cole. The brand hijacked a hashtag about the Arab Spring and left the Twitterverse (rightly) miffed.

Create and promote your own hashtag if it’s specific to a particular event for your nonprofit.

#LengthyHashtagsDontWorkWellBecause They Waste Twitter Characters

Also, they look bad. Hashtags don’t have spaces between words, so long ones are hard to read. Plus, with the 140-character limit on Twitter, a long hashtag occupies precious social media real estate. Keep your hashtag short and simple.

Pithy hashtags are more easily remembered, spread more quickly (and last longer), and can be retweeted without editing.


Social media works best when integrated with other marketing channels. Likewise, your nonprofit’s hashtag will have the greatest impact when bolstered by a marketing campaign promoting its use. Establish your hashtag well ahead of time so that when your nonprofit mails invitations to your next fundraising event, you can let them in on your brilliant strategy. Savvy supporters will tweet in anticipation of fundraisers, as in “So excited for my local library’s #2012BookwormGala.”

Lastly, note that relying on a specific hashtag—rather than the aforementioned #Chocolate—will necessarily narrow your audience. But in nonprofit promotion a narrowed audience will serve you well. Local individuals with a vested interest in your mission are most likely to support you anyway.

Hashtags can be of tremendous value to your nonprofit’s social media plan, and they have the potential to add instant weight to your marketing materials.

How have you incorporated hashtags into your nonprofit marketing plan?


Jill Havlat

May 2, 2012

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