How to Stand Out on Instagram

In my shop you can download for FREE an eBook that I wrote about how to stand out on Instagram as a nonprofit organization.

I also wanted to give you the first half of the eBook right here! (Next week I’ll post the second half.)

Lesson 1

5 “Greats” of Instagram

Do you ever browse the Instagram feeds’ of others? Do you notice how beautiful some feeds are?  Do you ever come across a feed that makes you cringe?

This first lesson is to get you looking at great Instagram feeds. We will also be deciding what you like, and what you don’t like.

While each of the Instagram accounts below are extremely different from each other, they all have similar qualities. First of all, they all have high-quality pictures. You will never see a blurry picture, a picture taken in poor lighting, or a picture that does not have an obvious connection to their brand or organization.

I have included picture examples from each of these feeds to give you an idea of what they are like, but I encourage you to search them on your own account to see their entire feed.

The National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation is an organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat. They are concerned about animals being squeezed out of their habitats and that precious ecosystems are being destroyed. Additionally, they want to help the next generation develop a love to the outdoors and for the species and ecosystems they are aiming to preserve.

The National Wildlife Federation consistently posts closeups of wild animals. These cute and beautiful animals work towards their cause of encouraging wildlife protection and the need to preserve the natural world around us. 

  • What do you notice about the pictures?
  • What do you like?
  • Do you like all of the closeups?
  • Do you think there is too much focus on the animals and not on the environment?

The National Wildlife Federation has made a conscious decision to focus their Instagram account and feed on animals. Perhaps they feel that this is where people will most connect with their organization. A cute animal might cause more people to follow their account than a pretty landscape. Additionally, they do not post pictures of the next generation that is such a big part of their organization. Nor do they post pictures of the products they sell through their website. This is important information for you to consider as you create your own Instagram feed. You do not need to post every single thing that you do.

The Wonder Forest

The Wonder Forest is an account run by Dana Fox, a blogger and entrepreneur. The focus of her blog is broad; She writes about traveling, creativity, blogging, business tips, positivity, etc. Ultimately, I would categorize her has a lifestyle blogger. 

Dana Fox’s Instagram account is pretty random with what she posts, but notice how the visuals of her posts are all extremely similar. She always posts images with a lot of white, pale pink, and black. Her entire feed is very Nordic. This is an example of using your Instagram posts to connect to a style.

  • Do you like how she uses a color theme to connect all of her photos?
  • What do you like about her pictures?
  • What do you not like about her feed?

Dana Fox uses quite a bit of editing on her photos to make them all look similar. She will take away shadows, increase the brightness, and decrease the color saturation in order to have everything come out pale and white. This kind of editing is a possibility, even for a nonprofit. You might not want to go with the same pale colors, but you could choose a theme based on color and edit your photos to look similar to one another.

Hailey Devine

Hailey Devine is another blogger and business owner. She runs a videography business with her husband and brother, which takes them all around the world. Therefore, she has two focuses: (1) her family, and (2) traveling.

Hailey Devine’s Instagram account probably has the most diverse photo range of all the accounts I’m showing you. She posts pictures of her baby girl, her family, random buildings, her travels, and just about anything else. Some pictures have people in them, while other pictures do not.

What ties her Instagram feed together is that all of the photos are extremely high quality, and they are all taken from unique, appealing angles. For instance, when she takes a picture of her little girl, she typically takes the picture at the eye level of her little girl. She does not stand straight up and take a picture looking down on her daughter. 

  • Do you like the different angles and views her pictures give you?
  • What aspects of her pictures do you like?
  • What do you not like about her feed?


Charity:Water is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world. On a recent list of the top 100 charities, I believe it ranked 3rd. Charity:Water is dedicated to bring clean drinking water to communities around the world. They are also dedicated to transparency, and a big part of that involves pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. 

Charity:Water uses their Instagram account to document the organization’s efforts to bring clean drinking water to everyone around the world. Notice how Charity:Water uses their photos to share the direct results of their program: They constantly post pictures of healthy looking, smiling faces from all around the world. This is a great way to connect your audience on an emotional level because a donor can see exactly who is being helped by their donations.

Do you notice the consistencies in their feed?

  1. Vibrant, high quality pictures
  2. Smiling Faces
  3. Water

Once again, I want to ask you a few questions about Charity:Water’s Instagram account:

  • What do you like about their pictures?
  • What do you not like about their pictures?

The Puppy Barn

The Puppy Barn is a business in Utah. They buy puppies from local breeders and sell them at their little storefront. This is one of the fastest growing businesses I have ever seen. It popped up in early 2015, and within 2 months it was booming. Interestingly, I was able to talk to the owner and he said they did not spend any money on advertising. Basically, the puppies sell themselves. They don’t even have a website. They only have a Facebook account and an Instagram account.

The Puppy Barn uses their Instagram account to show the cuteness of puppies and how much joy a puppy can bring to people.

Notice how they always post one of these three things: (1) closeup of a puppy’s face, (2) a puppy in the arms of someone visibly falling in love with it, or (3) the puppies looking up as if they want to be picked up and taken home. These are specific tactics that The Puppy Barn uses to make their followers feel like they need to come in and buy a puppy immediately. Consider these tactics (especially if your run an animal shelter).

As with the other accounts that we have seen, notice the image quality and lighting of their pictures. Every single picture is high quality, and I know for a fact that all of their pictures are taken with smart phones. That’s right. They do not use any special cameras to take the pictures for their feed. They use a simple iPhone.

  • What do you like about The Puppy Barn’s Instagram?
  • What do you not like?

Task #1

The task for this lesson is for you to come up with a list of what you do and do not like about these organization’s Instagram feeds. Additionally, take some time to look over your nonprofit’s Instagram. How does it compare to the feeds discussed above? Do you notice some things that you are going to change throughout this course?

Don’t get overwhelmed if you feel like your nonprofit’s feed isn’t anywhere near the quality of the feeds above. We will get there.

Lesson 2

Refining Your Bio

My husband told me a story the week he proposed. He said that his first impression of me was before I even knew he existed. I was just moving into a new apartment and he saw me unloading my things from the car as he sat inside the office. He says that he thought I was really cute and the first thing he noticed about me was my smile when I laughed.

This was a first impression that I honestly didn’t have much control over. Luckily, I am generally a happy person, and I happened to have gotten ready for the day that day.

Lucky for you, the first impression that your nonprofit has on a potential follower or donor is something that you can completely control. In the following lessons we are going to talk about the pictures and captions that you post, but first of all we should discuss your bio, i.e. your nonprofit’s first impression.

Think of the Instagram bio as your organization’s elevator pitch. You only have about 30 seconds to draw people in. Therefore, the bio needs to give valuable information about what your organization does, but it should also lead them to want to learn more.

Here are some top-notch bios from Instagram accounts that have thousands of followers:

UN Women: UN Women is the UN entity for Gender Equality and women’s empowerment. It works to accelerate progress on meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide.

31 Bits: Fashion For Good. Using fashion and design to empower people to rise above poverty.

Girl Rising: Girl Rising uses storytelling to inspire action that gets girls into classrooms worldwide. Educate Girls. Change the World.

Malala Fund: The Malala Fund is the official organization led by Malala Yousafzai focused on ensuring all girls get the quality 12-year education they deserve.

Charity:Water: We’re bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world.

  • What do you like about these examples?
  • What do you not like?

Crafting Your Organization’s Bio

Now that we have gone through the importance of the bio and some examples of bios that other organizations are using, let’s move on to crafting your organization’s Instagram bio.

As you craft your organization’s bio, consider the following questions:

  • What is your Organization doing?
    • What does your organization add to society?
    • Who are you serving?
    • Where are you located?
  • How is your organization accomplishing its mission?
    • By what means are you bringing about change?
  • What makes your organization different from other organizations?
    • Are you sponsored by someone famous?
    • Are you using a unique approach?

Let’s look at an example again:

Malala Fund: The Malala Fund is the official organization led by Malala Yousafzai focused on ensuring all girls get the quality 12-year education they deserve.

What questions are answered by the Malala Fund’s bio?

What is their organization doing? They are helping girls receive a full 12 years of education

Who are they serving? Girls

Where are they located? They say “ensuring all girls,” which leads me to believe they work around the world.

How are they accomplishing their mission? They don’t answer this question in their bio.

What makes their organization unique? They are led by Malala Yousafai. She became famous for standing up for her own education and was shot in the head because of her stance.

So, the Malala Fund answered almost all of the questions, but they could have answered “How are you accomplishing the organization’s mission?” by mentioning that they are heavily involved in UN discussions.

Now it is your turn to refine and craft your organization’s Instagram bio.

Task #2

Your task today is to find 5 large organizations on Instagram that are dealing with the same issues that your organization deals with. Write down their bio’s and go through the questions above. What question’s are they answering? What question’s have they left unanswered?

Then, do the same practice with your own organization’s bio. What questions do you answer? What questions have you left unanswered?

Finally, take these examples and the questions above to revise your organization’s Instagram bio. Try to answer each of the questions, while keeping the bio short and sweet (remember, it should only take someone about 15-30 seconds to read the bio and decide to follow your organization).

Lesson 3

Purging the Ugly and Unwanted

Instagram is full of beautiful accounts.

Take, for example, the accounts that we discussed in the first lesson.

Charity:Water, The Wildlife Federation, and Hailey Devine all have high-quality content and their pictures are flawless. Also, each of their accounts’ stay uniform throughout the entire feed. For example, on Charity:Water’s feed you know what pictures to expect and you know what quality their images are going to be. You will probably see smiling faces and crystal clear water.

Unfortunately this is not the case for all nonprofit organizations. I hate to admit it, but I have stopped following good organizations’ Instagram feeds because their content was all over the place and their images were poor quality.

This lesson is to ensure that your organization’s feed has the chance to become uniform and high-quality.

We are going to go through and delete all of the ugly and unwanted pictures from your organization’s Instagram feed.


Before we get to your organization’s Instagram feed, let’s take a look at an account that I made especially for you:

  • What is your first impression of this organization’s Instagram account? 

Personally, I wouldn’t follow an organization’s Instagram account if they had pictures like this. People want to follow accounts that look good and have great pictures.

  • What is your first impression of the organization itself?

If I saw this feed, I would have quite a few thoughts about the organization behind it. First of all, I wouldn’t understand the organization’s mission. Do they even have a mission? Are they just going on random adventures outside?

Secondly, I would think that this organization is not professional. A professional organization that is serious about making change will have a uniform, professional Instagram account. This looks like someone just threw up pictures in 5 minutes (which is exactly what I did *wink wink*).

Overall, I wouldn’t want to follow this organization, and I definitely wouldn’t want to donate my hard-earned money to their cause (because who knows what their cause is?).

Here are some things for you to notice:

  1. Picture Quality
    1. The blurry lizard
    2. Every picture with a person is out of focus or you can’t see the subject of the photo
  2. Lighting
    1. We can’t see the girl’s face in the second picture
    2. Does the girl in the third picture (where she is eating a sandwich) have eyes?
  3. Random Photos that don’t connect to the organization’s bio
    1. The list
    2. The girl eating a sandwich
  4. Confusing pictures
    1. Why is there a Cheerios box in the picture with a turtle?
    2. Why is there a list? What is on the list?
    3. What is going on with the guys on the skis?
  5. Unprofessional Selfies (any selfie in general)
    1. The girl eating a sandwich
    2. Girl on the sand

Obviously, the Instagram feed that I put together is pretty bad, but I am sad to say that I’ve seen some organization’s with Instagram feeds worse than this.

Your Organization’s Instagram Feed

Now, take a look at your own organization’s Instagram feed:

  • Do you have pictures that do not connect to your organization or mission on your Instagram feed?
  • Do you have ANY selfies that need to be taken down?
  • Is every picture suitable for all audiences?
  • Are any of your pictures blurry?
  • Do some of your pictures have poor lighting?

Task #3

I know this might be hard, but your task is to go through and delete all the ugly and unwanted pictures on your organization’s Instagram feed.

I say this might be hard because sometimes we get attached to a poor-quality picture of a beneficiary or a fundraising event. I promise that in the long run this will help your Instagram account look a lot more professional and high-quality.

Is there a blurry picture?

Delete it.

Is there a picture with awful lighting?

Delete it.

Lesson 4

Selecting a Theme

Thinking back to the Instagram profile examples I gave in lesson one, did you notice a visual theme for these individuals and organizations? For instance, The Wonder Forest posts very white, nordic photos. There is never anything extremely bright or vibrant in any photo. Hailey Devine’s photos are extremely sharp and vibrant. Charity:water’s photos almost always have a smiling face or a water theme.

Take some time to look through your organization’s Instagram feed.

Do you have a theme?
Do you see the potential for a theme? Perhaps you tend to post pictures of beneficiaries, but they aren’t high quality (yet).

Deciding on a theme can be hard because you don’t want to pick a theme that isn’t feasible for your organization. For instance, if you are running a shelter for dogs, you probably can’t decide on a specific color scheme for your photos. On the other hand, if you ARE running an animal shelter you could do similar pictures to The Puppy Barn, from lesson 1.

I know that selecting a theme might seem like you are limiting the posts that you can create, and that is true. In order to make your Instagram feed look and feel more professional,


This doesn’t mean that you can never post a quote if you generally post pictures of your beneficiaries. What it means is that people will be able to anticipate the kind of photos they will see on your Instagram feed.

(Make sure you aren’t picking a theme that will limit your organization, but don’t pick something crappy so you can post every picture you take.)

Here are some possible theme options:

Example: The Nectar Collective

Example: Farm Sanctuary


Example: Words of Success

Example: Lucky Fin Project

Background Color
Example: DeKalb County Animal Services

Also, remember in lesson one when we talked about the National Wildlife Federation? I mentioned how their mission involves 3 things: wildlife, ecosystems, and getting children outside. But, remember how their Instagram feed only focused on the wildlife? Perhaps you want to choose one aspect of your organization to document on your Instagram account to create your theme.

Task #4

The task for this lesson is for you to come up with a theme for your organization. Decide if you want to use color, background, people, or animals to create a distinct theme for your organization’s Instagram feed.

Lesson 5

Better Photos for a Better Instagram

Now that you have perfected your Bio, purged your unwanted pictures, and chosen a theme, it is time to take pictures and make visuals for your future Instagram posts.

I want to focus on two different types of visuals for your Instagram feed in this lesson.

First off, you can create your own visuals without being the one behind the camera. This is what I do most often because otherwise I would be posting the same picture of my office every single day. This option involves creating the image on your computer and then sending it to your phone in order to upload it to Instagram. Some of the times when you will be likely to use this option is when you are promoting an event, sharing a quote, etc.

Secondly, (the more common option for an average nonprofit) you can take your own pictures, edit them, and post them on Instagram. This will be the more common option if you are showing your beneficiaries, publicizing an activity or program, etc.

Creating Visuals Using Stock Photos

I have gone through so many “50 sites to find free Photos” blog posts over the years and so many of those sites only have a few images or the images really aren’t high-quality. Therefore, here are the sites that I actually use to find my stock photos. They are all completely free for personal and commercial use (as long as you don’t get sucked into spending extra money on them).

  • Pixabay: My personal favorite. I can typically find exactly what I need, and all images are 100% free for commercial use with no attribution required.

  • Death to Stock Photo: There are a lot of paid features on this site, but you can sign up for a monthly package of free photos sent to your email.

  • Pixels: Another personal favorite. If I can’t find an image on Pixabay, it is on Pixels. Pixels is easy to search is free for commercial use.

  • Stock Photos: This is the first site I have found with a nonprofit section with great photos. The site is easy to use and searchable.

  • Unsplash: There are incredible photos released every 10 days. The only downside is that there is no search function.

Adding Text to Pictures

Have you ever heard of or used Canva before?

I could honestly become a salesman for Canva. I’m hooked. It is so easy to use and you don’t have to pay for a single thing!

Canva is a website where you can design images for all of your social media platforms. They even have specific templates for Instagram posts. There are free and paid options, but they warn you every time you pick something that will cost. Now, I have never paid for one of my pictures on Canva because I get a free stock photo and upload it to Canva. Then, I only use the free options for adding text and design to the photo.

Taking Your Own Pictures

My number one advice for taking better photos for Instagram is this: Study the pictures of Instagram accounts that you admire.

What are they doing that you could be doing? Do you like seeing smiling faces? Do you like to see the places where the organization is serving? Now go out and try taking some of these kinds of pictures. It is all about practice and trial and error. Notice what lighting looks the best, which direction you need to face with respect to the sun or lighting.

My other piece of advice is this: Get to know your camera. 

Are you using your iPhone? Are you using a DLSR? You know those pamphlets that come with the phone or camera that usually stay in the box and never get opened? Uhh… the manual? Yeah, the manual. Pull the manual out and learn about the camera. Learn what you can do with it and how you can take better pictures.

Also, I have come across numerous articles and classes that might be up your alley:

  1. Vlography by Haugen Creative. Haugen Creative one of the most beautiful videography businesses I have ever come across. This business is run by a wife, husband, and brother, who are in their 20’s and they have mastered social media and videography. They travel around the world documenting other people’s lives for weddings, commercials, advertisements, etc. This particular course, Vlography is great for anyone with an iPhone. They go through exactly how they take their photos for Instagram and how they edit their pictures.
  2. 5 Tips for Taking Better Photos With Any Camera. This is a quick article with great advice on taking better photos for your Instagram account. Ruth Soukup discusses learning about your camera, changing your perspective, eliminating cluttered backgrounds, the rule of thirds, and creating artsy photos.
  3. 11 Instagram Stars Spill Their Secrets

Editing Photos for Instagram

One of the nice things is that these days you don’t have to take perfect pictures for them to look great once you post them on Instagram. There are plenty of tools and apps out there to help edit your photos.

There are so many apps and tutorials on how to edit your photos that sometimes it becomes overwhelming. Here I have a few of my favorite apps and tutorials for you to check out. I learned everything I do from these and I’m sure you will be able to learn a lot as well.


Photoshop is a great place to edit your photos if you understand the application. Personally, I am not very Photoshop-savvy. I understand how to do basic edits, but then I send the picture to my brother and ask him to finish the picture.

Also, these are two of my  favorite apps for editing photos on my phone:

Phone Applications:

  • VSCOcam
  • Instagram

Task #5

The task for this lesson is twofold. First, go through the links and glean all of the information that you want to learn (based on your own camera and editing needs). Second, practice what is discussed in this lesson. Find a picture on one of the stock photo sites and add some text to it using Canva. Also, take a few pictures and edit them using the information from the second half of the lesson.



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