As social media becomes more deeply rooted into our work and our daily lives, we sometimes wonder how we managed without it. It’s a real game-changer for nonprofits, providing powerful tools to show your mission in action. Through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and your website, you can tell your story in a variety of ways, using postings, email, blogs, photos, and videos. Best of all, social media is inexpensive and readily available anytime you want to use it.

A recent survey from the Case Foundation looked at the ways nonprofits use social networks to engage their communities. The survey queried 500 nonprofit professionals involved in communications. The findings provide an interesting look at how social media is used—and not used—to inform and engage.

Despite the many opportunities offered by social media, a great majority (88%) of respondents said their most important communication tools are the basic ones: websites and email. Most (75%) use these tools primarily to announce news and events, fundraising campaigns, or other projects. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. This “bulletin board” approach is more about informing, less about engaging. One-way communication does not encourage dialogue, sharing, liking, or feedback—all the things social media was created for.

While nonprofits recognize the value of social media, many haven’t allocated much manpower to it. About half of the respondents had one or slightly less than one full-time employee overseeing social networks. Yes, it’s difficult for nonprofits with limited staff to spend a lot of time on social media. But on the positive side, you can move quickly and be creative, even with relatively little investment of time.

Surprisingly, only about half the nonprofits surveyed post content in the form of blogs or other regularly updated messaging. Another missed opportunity? Definitely. Blogging is a great way to share your knowledge and experience with your online community and increase your nonprofit’s visibility. If a potential donor goes online to research nonprofits in your sector, you want your name to come up high in the search. Posting relevant, high-quality content on a regular basis can help increase your search engine rankings.

Here are some tips on improving your social media communications and engaging your community:

• Not everything you post has to be solicitation-oriented. Posting content just because it’s worthwhile and interesting engages your community, who may share, like, or repost it. For best results, end your post with a question mark.

• The Gates Foundation recommends Twitter posts five days a week. It might seem frequent, but these posts are short and don’t take much time.

• Develop a discipline for social media by preparing an editorial calendar. Brainstorm about topics in advance so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Set definite dates for postings and try to stick to them.

• Repurpose your communications whenever feasible. Did you recently write an article, give a great presentation, or produce some clever infographics? Turn them into blog posts or put them on your Facebook page.

• Using photos and videos effectively will promote engagement with your audience. Strategically selected images will also boost search engine optimization.

• Don’t forget the mobile user. More and more, people rely on their smartphones to keep up with emails and gather information. Be sure that your website, blog, newsletters, and other communications are mobile-compatible.

We’ll have more on smartphone strategies and the importance of blogging for nonprofits in future posts.