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Seven Steps to Getting Started with Google+

Resource Center - Foundation

Two months ago Marc Pitman shared WHY your nonprofit needed to be on Google+: Now that you [hopefully] are, he’s back to provide an update on why, and next steps on how to use it to your nonprofit’s advantage!

Recap on Why Google+

Google+ has quickly become a rival social network to Facebook, growing faster than any other social network in history. More importantly, where Facebook and Twitter try to get you to be on their site, many millions of people are already on Google’s sites like: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader, and YouTube to name a few.


Google is rolling out a navigation system across these products that subtly and effectively promote Google+. The next time you go to Google, including the Google home page, look for the black bar at the top. Then look in the upper left corner and you’ll see a button that says “You+.” That’s where you get started on Google+.

Once you’ve started Google+ is literally in your face. If you use a tool like Gmail, you’ll see a red notification box alerting you to any update to your posts or posts you’ve interacted with! It’s really easy to check them without even leaving the page.

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Caption: The red notifications box makes Google+ easy to use from any of Google’s products.

As if that weren’t enough, Google’s search is now using the +1 button (the Google+ version of a Facebook “like”) to help influence its search results. You’ll see more and more blogs now adding Google+ “+1” buttons in addition to the existing Facebook and Twitter buttons.

Now for the “How” – Seven easy steps to get you started on the right foot

#1: Sign Up

As Maria said in “The Sound of Music,” let’s start at the very beginning. You need to register for a Google+ profile. But that’s pretty easy, especially if you’re already using Gmail. (You are using Gmail, right? 

You’ll want to set up your personal “profile” first. Then you’ll set up a “page” for your nonprofit.

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Caption: Even if you’re not yet using Gmail, signing up is fairly quick and simple.

#2: Upload Avatars

As with any social media, one of the very first things you want to do is get rid of the default profile image by adding some images of yourself. On your personal profile, it’s best to add pictures of yourself, not faces of your cat and not pictures of your family. Since your profile picture will mostly be seen as a tiny 32 pixel circle image, it’s best to use your face—something that will look good in a small circle.

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Caption: As of March 2013, the Google+ cover image is HUGE.

For your nonprofit page, it’s best to use a bold aspect of your nonprofit’s logo, like a defining word or image. And as with your personal profile image, it needs to work well on the cover and in the news feed.

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Caption: As of March 2013, though your avatar will be square, it needs to fit in a circle. And be identifiable both in large and small formats.

Bonus tip: As of March 2013, Google+ reinstituted a “scrapbook” option for cover photos. Putting any five images in the “scrapbook” album in the photos section of your personal profile or nonprofit’s page will allow you to choose those images to show where your cover is.

#3: Fill Interesting Information in Your Bio

Google is first and foremost a search engine. One of the best things about Google+ is that you are literally teaching Google how to classify you and your nonprofit. So it helps to fill out your “about” page as completely as possible. Google will use this to help other people connect with you on Google+ and in other Google searches.

If you already fleshed out your Google profile, this section will be pre-filled for you. But take a look at it and see if this represents you the way you want it to.

Bonus tip #1: Use Wordle to check your profile

Here is an easy way to see if your profile is helping present you the way you want it to. Copy all the text in your “about” section and paste it into the box at Wordle.  If the words look like what you want it to, you’re all set!

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Caption: An example of a my “about” text transformed by

Bonus tip #2: A useful glitch in your profile

The next time you’re on Google+, try hovering over people’s names. Do you notice how some people have lots of text describing what they do and some have very little?

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Caption: Google+ pulls that text from the employer name field in your employment history marked “current.”

If you just want your company name to show, you don’t need to add anything. But try experimenting.

This is important with your nonprofit profile too. Be sure to use the keywords you want to be found by in a search and the keywords your donors are using themselves to find you.

#4: Fill Up Your Links

While you’re editing your “about” page, be sure to pay attention to the “other profiles” section. Here is a list of some links to consider including: 

  • Links to other social media networks
  • Links to your business sites
  • Links to special pages on your website

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Caption: Feel free to include odd links in your personal profile as long as they fit the image you’re trying to project on your profile. You might want to experiment linking to other nonprofits in your field on your organization’s profile.

#5: Look for Interesting People

If you’re not circling people (that means following them in Google+ lingo), Google+ can be a boring, barren wasteland. So start circling all sorts of people that might seem interesting. The search field in Google+ keeps getting better. Here are some ways to find them on your personal profile:

  • Search for people with the same occupation
  • Search for people interested in the same cause communities
  • Search for people with the same hobbies

You need to do this on your personal profile. In an apparent effort to keep businesses and nonprofits from spamming, Google really limits how your professional page can circle people. Personal profiles can circle whomever they want without asking permission first. This is a huge benefit for prospect research. However, nonprofit pages are only able to circle people who’ve first circled them.

Bonus tip: Search for shared circles

A quick way to find lots of interesting people is to import other people’s circles. As people share circles, you can incorporate those circles into your existing circles or into a new separate circle. YouTube video on how to import a circle:

Beware: you might be waiting a long time to see a “shared circle” show up in your stream. To jump start this, simply search on the term “shared a circle with you”—this pulls up the shared circles. You can add a term to narrow those shared circles to ones you’ll find interesting.

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Caption: A search on the phrase “shared a circle with you” and the word “nonprofit” brings up groups of people related to nonprofits that can jumpstart your Google+ experience.

#6: Repost your nonprofit’s updates

Since Google restricts who a nonprofit page can circle, it will help to share your nonprofit’s updates through your personal profile. More people will be able to see it and find your nonprofit’s page.

You can also ask your staff, volunteers, and board members who have Google+ accounts to do the same.

#7: Play Around

Nothing helps you get started better than spending some time on Google+. In addition to following people, be sure to +1 their posts and comment on them. Try resharing posts to specific circles of people. Experiment with Hangouts. Play with the type of posts they share on Google+. Some people are simply reposting their blog links. Others are finding Google+ to be a phenomenal tool for sharing pictures and videos.

In an early discussion on experimenting with different types of posts Wendy Harman, Director of Social Strategy for the American Red Cross, said she was “trying out a ‘no links to or posts specifically promoting Red Cross campaigns’ approach on the Red Cross Google+ brand page. We'll see how it goes! I think it's important to offer something different on each platform.”

Play around with it and see what works for you.

Give Yourself a Jump Start

Anything worth learning takes time. And Google+ is definitely worth learning. So give yourself some time. Using these seven steps will definitely shorten your learning curve!

After you’ve gotten familiar with Google+ as a person, then repeat the process in making your business a Google+ page!

What do you think?  What other “getting started” steps would you include?  Let us know on Twitter @marcapitman, @AFPIHQ or @AFPIHQNikki! 

Marc A. Pitman, CFCC is the founder of and the author of six books including Google+ for Nonprofits ( An international speaker and trainer, when he’s at home he tends to sing 80’s songs loud enough to embarrass his family.

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