4 Tips to Write More Engaging Nonprofit Instagram Captions

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By Robert Carnes
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Published July 16, 2021
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Instagram is notably popular among nonprofits, with about half of charitable organizations maintaining an active presence on the platform.

Photo and video content drives your Instagram presence, but the caption accompanying each visual is an underappreciated feature that can boost your nonprofit’s Instagram content and engagement.

Captions are important largely because the Instagram algorithm uses the content to determine what posts are shown to specific users. Their goal is to provide relevant content, and your captions determine that relevance.

Pay attention to your Instagram captions, because they’ll determine whether or not people will see your posts—and what actions they’ll take once they do.

1. Pay Attention to the Length

There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to Instagram caption length. Shorter is usually better, but not always. Research shows that the average Instagram caption length has gradually increased from 142 characters in 2016 to over 400 in 2020.

About a third of Instagram post captions contain between 50 to 150 characters. Another third of posts have more than 300 characters in the caption. There is no single formula for caption length; it all depends on your nonprofit’s voice and the visual that goes with the caption.

Remember that the maximum length for an Instagram caption is 2,200 characters, including up to 30 hashtags. That’s about 300 words, which is probably too long for most captions.

Some accounts use the instagram caption like a mini-blog post, complete with full paragraphs of text. Humans of New York is a great example of providing long-form captions to tell the deeper story of each photograph.

If you choose to go the long-form route, break up text into shorter paragraphs. This makes it easier to digest and read, especially on a mobile device. Regardless of length, your goal is to make the caption worth reading by your audience.

2. Take Time to Craft and Edit

Place the most important content at the beginning of the caption, since Instagram automatically cuts off the text after 125 characters (and hides the rest behind a “…more” button). Use this opening as a teaser for the rest of the caption to follow.

Plan ahead by writing these captions in a content calendar or somewhere similar. Give yourself time and space to think strategically, rather than waiting until the last minute or trying to type long captions directly on your phone.

Don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts for captions. You’ll get better with practice. The goal is to be succinct and clear, while also supporting the visual content with impactful language. That’s not always an easy balance to get right the first time. Use writing tools like the Hemingway app to make sure you’re short and clear.

You can also use emojis within captions. Emojis give you the opportunity to be fun and speak the language of Instagram users. However, be sure to remain consistent with your nonprofit’s brand and voice. If emojis aren’t something your nonprofit uses in content, Instagram is an effective place to try out a few.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for captions, HubSpot has a free resource with examples or you can check out Captiona, a search engine app specifically for Instagram captions.

3. Use Relevant Hashtags and Mentions

Instagram is one of the best social platforms to leverage hashtags, but you don’t want to overdo them. A HubSpot study reveals that using too many hashtags in a caption decreases your engagement rate. Instagram allows profiles to use up to 30 hashtags in a caption, but that’s far too many—most experts recommend between 5 to 10.

An advanced tip is to place the hashtags in the first comment of the post, rather than directly within the caption. This is simply to keep the caption clean and free from hashtag clutter, while still getting the benefits of hashtag searchability. Tools like Hashtagify and Ingrammer can help you generate the right hashtags for your nonprofit’s content.

It’s also appropriate to mention other Instagram profiles in the caption. You can tag them directly in the image, but including their handle in the caption makes it more likely for your audience to engage with that profile. For example, most accounts tag the photographer who captured the image or video they’re using.

Tagging other profiles helps more people see your comment because they’ll be notified when they’re tagged. However, don’t try to game the system by overloading the number of people you tag, as that comes across as annoying and spammy.

4. Provide Context and a Call to Action

The best captions provide context to the visual being shared and give a clear follow-up action that the user can take. There’s great opportunity here as 75% of Instagram users take an action, like visiting a website or making a purchase, after viewing content on the platform.

Nearly a third of nonprofits use Instagram to raise money and awareness for their cause. This is gradually becoming more of an option for online fundraising, and writing clear and compelling Instagram captions helps make that possible.

There are plenty of ways nonprofits can use Instagram to support their fundraising campaigns, including providing an update on fundraising progress to saying thank you to generous donors.

For most other social media platforms, the call to action (CTA) is usually to click a link and be directed back to a website. Instagram is different because of the inability to include links within the post captions, hence the “link in bio” push.

If the link in bio is too limiting, you can use a tool like Linktree or LinkIn.Bio to create a link-filled landing page that gives your audience more options. Linktree Pro is even free for nonprofits.

In either case you’ll want to be clear with what your audience should be doing once they click that link, whether it’s to register for an event, make a donation, volunteer, sign a petition, or something else. Because the caption provides context, it’s a crucial part of moving your audience towards a next step.

Effective Captions Are Key to Your Nonprofit’s Instagram Success

Instagram is one of the most popular and engaging social media platforms for nonprofit organizations. However, most nonprofits miss out on true Instagram effectiveness because they underutilize writing effective captions.

Take the time and follow a few best practices to improve your organization’s Instagram captions. This will not only help your content get found more often on the platform, it will also help to support the great visual content you’re creating.

Charity:water, Pencils of Promise, and the National Wildlife Federation are a few more great examples of nonprofits who are maximizing their Instagram captions. They use this space to exercise their distinct brand voice to accompany powerful visual images. Find even more examples on our list of great nonprofits to follow on Instagram.

The Nonprofit Digital Marketing Checklist

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