How Nonprofit Leaders Create An Authentic Personal Brand on Instagram | Beth's Blog

How Nonprofit Leaders Create An Authentic Personal Brand on Instagram


2-18-2016 9-35-59 AM

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 tell 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 audiences 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 humaness, humility, and/or humor.

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

One of the best personal brands that I’ve seen on Instagram from a nonprofit leader is Thomas P Campbell  the CEO of the Metropolitan Museum.   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 criteria for an effective personal brand.   Here’s what I discovered:

  • Genuine

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 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.

  • Distinctiveness

It may be no surprised that he is an excellent photography 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.

  • Relevant

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.

  • Visibility

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

  • Specialization

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.

  • Authority

He is an expert in art at his institution and keeps abreast of what’s happening the world around that provide 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.

  • Goodwill

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 their personal brand with their nonprofit’s brand.  He has created the best fit and is delivering that extra punch to the Met’s communications strategy. When a CEO is personally invested in their nonprofit’s work and demonstrates it on social channel, it guides their focus and creates value for their organization’s stakeholders. It also creates a highly engaged group of employees and board members and attracts people outside of your organization to their cause.

What to Post?

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

Avoid the Uncanny Valley

Most importantly, nonprofit CEO’s must avoid having their PR or Marketing support staff create an 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 inbetween is called “The Uncanny Valley,” and it makes us distrust it, ridicule it, or want to kick it.

9-5-2015 11-44-13 AM

Thomas C 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 full time job, they need to squeeze it into a packed day.  So, there is a middle ground between the Uncanny Valley and having do it all themselves.  Certainly, they may have a team support for their social media channels to help with posting or generate ideas for posts – 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 Presidents Joko Widodo (@Jokowi), @MauricioMacri,@PenaNieto, Prime Ministers @damedvedev,@Erna_Solberg, @LeeHsienLoong,@Najib_Razak, @TRoivas, and Foreign Ministers @DidierReynders,@EdgarsRinkevics, @GebranBassil,@kasnms, @Khalid_bin_Ahmad,@KristianJensenum and @NasserJudeh.

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?  Please share the URL in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.



10 Responses

  1. Alan Turner says:

    I spoke to you briefly at the United Way conference in Texas last year. More United Ways are getting on Instagram, but not that many CEOs. I have tried to keep in mixed with my personal life and United Way life.

  2. Beth says:

    Alan, will add you to the list! I remember you well and often show off your personal brand on Twitter at workshops. I’ll be presenting again this year in Vancouver – hope to see you there

  3. Marcia Gray says:

    Love this great blog post of you Beth. A very inspiring blog. Can’t wait to see your upcoming blog.

  4. Jamillia says:

    Hi Beth!

    I am new to your site, and a nonprofit CEO. My Instagram account is

  5. Beth says:

    Thank you Jamillia

  6. […] ways to make your organization’s Instagram unique and appealing through some advice by Beth’s Blog.  According to to the blog, good Instagram accounts […]

  7. I really like this! I think more non-profit leaders should be on Instagram!
    There are so many positives to opening up and sharing what you’re up to, not just in your day to day but in your down time and on your weekends. We don’t want some CEO running our companies, we want people. People we can relate to.
    Great post!!


  8. […] Leaders Create An Authentic Personal Brand on Instagram. (2016). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from F. (2015). How To Build Your Personal Brand. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from […]

  9. Tetiana Pasichnyk says:

    In my opinion, Instagram is a great platform for nonprofits to share their stories, get more supporters, stimulate donations, and engage volunteers in their activities.
    My favorite example is the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation. The founder, Eduardo Serio, post by himself a lot of amazing pictures and videos how he is interacting with different animals, rescued by the organization. The account gained more than 5mln followers for a less than three years and became the second most watched account in the world. And there is why: he posts consistently, shows his devotion to his mission, and of course, genuinely loves what he is doing.