Keep Calm and Use Memes


To meme, or not to meme?  Internet memes are consistently trend across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Reddit, to name a few. Non-profits have tapped into this goldmine of pop culture content to drive engagement and visibility.


And what exactly is a meme?


Merriam Webster defines meme (/ˈmiːm/; meme) as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”


Internet memes operate on a shared understanding of popular culture. Nonprofits can benefit from an understanding of popular memes, then specify which memes relate to targeted causes and missions. Properly using memes is essential to successfully engage current and future supporters.


Non-profit professionals specializing in social media and online content discussed the use of memes during The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s live online discussion, How to Use Pop Culture to Spread Ideas and Motivate Supporters on December 12. The discussion features representatives from the Rad Campaign, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and Planned Parenthood.


The National Wildlife Federation attracted recent attention for a meme used to promote Garden for Wildlife Month. It featured an image of gosling hatchlings and integrated the popular Feminist Ryan Gosling  “hey girl” meme.


“Hey Girl, these goslings are cuter than Ryan”


Danielle Brigida is the senior manager of social strategy and integration for the National Wildlife Federation and created the meme to boost awareness and engagement online.


Brigida describes the work done at NFW as serious in nature, so she was inspired by the entertainment value of memes. She describes her role as “bridging the gap” between pop culture and NFW’s mission. Memes are perfect for creating “edutainment”, a happy medium of education and entertainment.


The delicate balance between pop culture and relevance to your nonprofit organization’s mission is key to creating a successful meme.


“Knowing your mission, and understanding it enough, and allowing your people to jump on it,” Brigida explains, is the most important aspect of successfully using memes. However, maintaining this balance is not always easy.


Making memes accessible to all members or supporters of a nonprofit is not possible, although it is the ultimate goal. Using content from pop culture may alienate some of your audience. Some will not understand the joke or reference, and some members simply are not online users. “Try not to be too subversive, esoteric, or offensive,” advises Brigida.


Certain social media sites where memes thrive have to potential to be hyper-focused on subculture ideas or themes, such as Reddit. Before making your meme public, consider if the meme is mainstream enough to reach the widest audience.


Planned Parenthood representatives Chelsea Perugini, social-media specialist, and Jackie Murphy, digital-content specialist, review successful and unsuccessful internet meme attempts.  To draw attention to the Affordable Care Act, Perugini and Murphy created two meme campaigns to coincide with current events.


Murphy shared memes based on favorite holiday movies, focusing on the fact that accidents happen during the holiday season (think of the flag pole scene in A Christmas Story, I triple-dog-dare you!).  Perugini designed memes based on coverage facts and gifs from The Hunger Games to coincide with the recent release of Catching Fire. Planned Parenthood took a topic not very entertaining and made it exciting and engaging through the use of memes.


It doesn’t always work out, however. Perugini also cites memes that did not excite or engage, evidenced by low numbers of click-throughs and page views. The content was not relevant or current. Also note that not all memes transfer across social media platforms. A meme that works on YouTube may not work the same way on Facebook.


Memes are a new, creative way for nonprofits to market their mission as well as entertain and engage supporters. Start generating your own memes to maximize your nonprofit’s potential for visibility with social media. Go viral “like you meme it” with the Top Ten Meme Generator Tools.


For comprehensive information on those memes you see online-or perhaps don’t quite understand-visit

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About the author: Sarah Daxton is a self-proclaimed cat lady, chocoholic, beard enthusiast, and aspiring writer. She is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master of Professional Writing at Chatham University.