ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 12:28pm
posted by
Craig Van Korlaar, CNP,
Consultant and Project Manager
Create Etc.

A while back, you might remember seeing a beautiful infographic about the social media practices of the top 50 nonprofits. When I first came across it, I was really excited. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that these were not ranked in terms of social media use, but rather based on net income. This is absolutely a valuable metric, but I was curious how this data might vary if the list was based on organizations with the strongest social media presence...the ones we stand to learn the most from.

When I could not find up to date lists containing this type of information, I figured the first step would be to gather it myself. Here is a taste of five different lists I have built over the past few months. For a legend explaining how the rankings are computed, scroll down past the lists.

Top 10 Organizations in Terms of Facebook Likes

  1. Invisible Children (Shot from 26th to 1st in under 2 weeks after release of the Kony 2012 video)
  2. National Public Radio
  3. WikiLeaks
  4. TEDTalks
  5. United States Olympic Committee
  7. Livestrong
  8. PETA
  9. (RED)
  10. Humane Society of the United States

View all 50 top nonprofits on Facebook (including logos & like buttons)  

Top 10 Organizations in Terms of Twitter Followers

  1. WikiLeaks
  2. charity: water
  3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  4. PBS
  5. (RED)
  7. Museum of Modern Art
  8. TEDTalks
  9. National Public Radio
  10. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

View all 50 top nonprofits on Twitter (including logos & follow buttons)

Social Media (Facebook Likes & Twitter Followers)

  1. WikiLeaks
  2. National Public Radio
  3. TEDTalks
  5. PBS
  6. Museum of Modern Art
  7. Invisible Children
  8. World Wildlife Fund
  9. PETA
  10. Livestrong

View all top 50 nonprofits on social media

Web + Social Media (excludes Charity Navigator Ratings)

  1. National Public Radio
  2. TEDTalks
  3. PBS
  4. American Red Cross
  5. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  6. PETA
  7. American Cancer Society
  8. WikiLeaks
  10. Smithsonian Institute

View the 100 top nonprofit organizations on the web (including full data table)

Web + Social Media + Charity Navigator Ratings (33.3% weight each)

  1. National Public Radio
  2. American Red Cross
  4. Smithsonian Institute
  5. Humane Society of the United States
  6. World Wildlife Fund
  7. Do Something
  8. St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital
  9. Kiva
  10. World Food Program USA

 Limitation: Charity Navigator only has about 81% of organizations in the top 500 list rated


  • Thousands of nonprofit organizations (excluding universities) are reviewed in a preliminary screening to determine if their statistics are competitive enough to be ranked.
  • 500 organizations are then selected to be ranked.
  • Data is collected for each nonprofit from all six measured criteria (i.e., for web; Alexa Rank, Compete Visitors, Google PageRank and for social media; Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers and lastly Charity Navigator’s 4 star rating scale).
  • For each of the six measured criteria, each organization is ranked in comparison to all other nonprofit organizations being evaluated.
  • A composite rank for each nonprofit is determined based on the included criteria in each list. See links for more details.
  • The top 50-100 organizations are published.

In addition to updating these lists several times a year, I will also be digging deeper into the specific online behaviors of these organizations and their online communities in search of tips and best practices.

Which of these lists is most interesting to you? What questions and best practices would you like addressed through further research?

Craig implements strategy, measures impact, and develops teams. His proactive leadership skills were honed as a decorated sergeant and enlisted aerial navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps and nurtured through his work in both the business and nonprofit sectors. In December, Craig received his degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from ASU and is currently attending the University of Colorado Denver's Business School.

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"Social Media Marketing for NPOs: Give Your Organization a Voice" by Carly Rowe.


Any ideas on whether or not any of these top organizations are using Google+ ?

I'm asking because I just read a good primer on Google+ and while I don't see it as better that facebook or twitter for my very small biz, it might be a good fit for larger organizations.

If anyone is interested, here is the link to the ebook/primer I just read. It is inexpensive, but well-written and informative.

Just in case the link doesn't work in this field, I am also placing it in the Comment As field.

Nice post, Craig. What always comes to my mind in discussions about the power of social media is how much more power national nonprofits have compared to local organizations. Attention is a scarce commodity, and local nonprofits can't compete. Our field should continue investigate the consequences of this, through some well-designed research studies (Professor Chao Guo is studying this, as he discussed in his Research Friday blog post on Attention Philanthropy). We need to better understand how increased social media attention on national and international causes affects local philanthropy and volunteerism.


I totally agree. Organizations with a national audience will always have an easier time hitting certain metrics such as total followers. The same goes for those with dedicated staff and budgets. One of the things that I also plan on studying is how and why certain local organizations within the same space excel within social media compared with others. Some categories that come to mind are animal shelters, museums, zoos, and food banks.

Something else to remember is that social media is a channel and not the be-all and end-all for nonprofit marketing and communication. Creating and sticking to a content schedule and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) and outcomes are keys to evaluating the value of time spent working with social media. My personal goal through this research is to hack the results and best practices in a way that can help organizations gain 80% of the value (opportunity) with 20% of effort (time). I have my suspicious as to what some of these high priority things to consistently focus on will be, but I want to try and let the research speak for itself.


I love that you took the time to research and compile this information. I am not surprised that Invisible Children has the most likes on Facebook or that National Public Radio has such a strong presence in all social media platforms. I believe that all nonprofits should take advantage of social media as it is practically free advertising; I also believe that nonprofits should aim to use social media platforms as a marketing tool since the average American uses some form of social media on a daily basis. Additionally, I feel it is important for nonprofits to have a strong following in all realms of social media in order to spread awareness of the organization's work and to have visibility in the organizations local community. However, I was once told that when it comes to nonprofits and social media it is not about how many followers one has but what your followers do with the information given. Are your followers engaged? Are they attending your fundraising events or volunteering for your organization? Are your followers donating to your cause? Are they sharing your information with their family and friends? How are we to measure true engagement when it comes to social media and nonprofits? I believe what your followers do with your information is important as well. Invisible Children is a great example of a nonprofit with a strong social media presence and followers actually sharing their information (the heartbreaking video) and donating... etc. The fact that their video went viral helped raise awareness of their cause in just a matter of days, and it was all thanks to social media, now almost everyone knows who KNOY is. I hope Invisible Children continues to use social media to their advantage.

I look forward to seeing future posts from you about nonprofits and social media in regards to their specific behaviors and how they engage their online community! Thanks Craig!

Thanks Samantha!

You are completely right. Engagement is what really matters and measuring this is one of the best things you can do with your time. Social media is "free" advertising in the sense that it don't cost upfront dollars but there is often a cost associated with a staff members time. If you're interested, I just published a downloadable social media posting guide on my blog to help nonprofits maximize the time they spend on social media -->

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