This guest post was reposted with permission from social media expert Beth Kanter, who helped us develop eLearning courses on social media. Learn more about the course and Beth at the end of this post.

Instagram, the popular millennial photo sharing site, is gaining traction with world leaders, government leaders and nonprofit executive directors. According to the "World Leaders on Instagram Study" released yesterday by Burson-Marsteller as part of its latest research into how world leaders, governments, and international organizations communicate via social media, the heads of state and government and foreign ministers of 136 countries currently have an official presence on Instagram, representing 70 percent of all United Nations (UN) member states. Like world leaders, nonprofit executive directors have been slow to recognize the power of Instagram.

Instagram is about photo sharing and tells stories in photos. The platform attracts many brands because of the opportunities for brand story telling. The visual nature makes it a perfect channel for executive directors to engage with their stakeholders. But to be effective, nonprofit leaders also must excel at using their personal brands and voices in service of their organizations' missions and strategies on Instagram and other social media channels.

Aside from having a personal branding strategy, what exactly makes an effective personal brand for a nonprofit leader? It's about authenticity, which breaks down as follows:

  • Genuine: It reflects their character, behavior, values, and vision.
  • Distinctiveness: It is expressed in a unique way and clearly defined, so their audience can quickly grasp what they stand for.
  • Relevant: It meets the target audience's needs.
  • Visibility: It makes them visible. They become a source for journalists to quote, have conversations with professional colleagues, or directly engage with stakeholders.
  • Specialization: It is precise, focused around a core talent or subject matter.
  • Authority: It reinforces that they are an expert in their field or subject matter related to their organization's mission or fundraising campaigns.
  • Goodwill: It generates goodwill, especially if exudes humanness, humility, and/or humor.

If you want to learn more pointers about building an effective personal brand and taking this deeper, read this Complete Guide to Buildling Your Personal Brand by Neil Patel and Aaron Agius.

One of the best personal brands that I've seen on Instagram from a nonprofit leader is Tom Campbell, the CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has focused on one channel, Instagram, because he wants to show the world his professional life at the Met through the eyes of his iPhone. I analyzed his photo stream and witty narrative to connect examples of what he shares to the above criteria for an effective personal brand. Here's what I discovered:


He doesn't just share the standard PR about the Met and its programs. He shares photos and reflections from business trips. This outdoor shot of SFMoMA is from a recent trip to SF where he had an indoor tour of the facility. Showing a value of integrity, he said he wished he could share the indoor shot but promised not to reveal it.


It may be no surprise that he is an excellent photographer, and each shot is carefully crafted and described. He is curating the experiences he shares. Take for example this shot of fireworks and the accompanying reflection.


The audience is obviously Met donors and visitors as well as professional colleagues. This shot is a painting at a museum visited during a professional conference for museums. He gives you the inside story about the work of art.


This shot is from a program for teens that the met sponsors, #metteens. His photo, commentary, and use of hash tags facilitates visibility and connection to this audience target.


His stream is focused on the theme of sharing his knowledge about the art and more specifically the experience of the Met. You will see photos of Met art works as well as art in other museums.


He is an expert in art at his institution and keeps abreast of what's happening in the world that provides an opportunity to celebrate art. Here is an observation about noticing Chuck Close's art in Instagram feeds and sharing a work from the Met, with some commentary.


He generates goodwill by being human and humorous. Here is a before/after photo of his dog after getting groomed. He quips that the dog could attend the Met's Costume Ball, but unfortunately it is sold out.

This is a brilliant example of how a nonprofit leader has aligned and synchronized his personal brand with his nonprofit's brand. He has created the best fit and is delivering that extra punch to the Met's communications strategy. When CEOs are personally invested in the work of their organizations and demonstrates it on social channels, it guides their focus and creates value for their stakeholders. It also creates a highly engaged group of employees and board members and attracts new people to your cause.

What to Post?

On Instagram, a photo is worth 1,000 words. Instagram is about storytelling. So, if executive directors are using the platform for leadership, their content should align with their organization's mission, but be shared in the leader's unique voice or lens, as in the examples from Tom Campbell above. He shares the art, a sneak peek about what it is like to be the CEO of the Met, acknowledges donors, shares insights about the art world, and includes the occasional personal photo of his dog or family. Need more inspiration? Here's a summary of content posted by world leaders.

Avoid the Uncanny Valley

Most importantly, nonprofit CEOs must avoid having their PR or marketing support staff create a personal brand that walks right into The Uncanny Valley. The term was discovered by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970. It is defined as a level of realism in robots in which the human observer has a negative reaction. Any less realistic and we feel empathy; any more realistic and we can't distinguish that it's artificial. The space in between is called "The Uncanny Valley,"and it makes us distrust it, ridicule it, or want to kick it.


Tom Campbell does not walk in The Uncanny Valley, but Socality Barbie does. This is a hilarious Instagram spoof account satirizing the great millennial adventurer trend in photography. It's an endless parade of selfies with just the right filter, description, and hashtags. If your CEO's social media profile is simply duplicating your brand's feed and voice, it enters the Uncanny Valley.

And, of course, busy nonprofit executives can't make using social media a full time job; they need to squeeze it into a packed day. So, there is a middle ground between the Uncanny Valley and having to do it all themselves. Certainly, they may have a team to help with posting or generating ideas for posts to their social media channels, much like world leaders get support from a speech writer. But there are world leaders who manage their own accounts. According to the Instagram report, some world leaders manage their Instagram accounts themselves and usually take their own pictures and selfies, including:

Nonprofit CEOs on Instagram

I searched high and low on Instagram to come up with a list of Nonprofit CEOs on Instagram. There are lots of brands, like this of art world players on Instagram, but not a lot of personal brands. I'm sure I missed many. Is your nonprofit executive director or board members using the tool?

If you're in communications or fundraising for a nonprofit, Foundation Center  course, Leveraging Leadership for Social Media Success, is for you. Based on content from Beth, this online offering walks you through creating a social media ambassadors program to broaden your reach.



BETH KANTER is a master trainer, speaker, author, and blogger. Beth is the author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing. Her newest book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout, is now available for ordering.

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