Twitter marketing isn’t just for big businesses and brands. Nonprofits are also effectively leveraging Twitter to boost awareness, increase donations, get free publicity, and solicit new volunteers.

In many ways, Twitter is an ideal social media platform for nonprofit organizations. By tweeting content such as links to blog posts, stories from people that the organization has helped, videos, and more, a nonprofit can project a personal identity to its followers. And when people can personally identify with you, they are more likely to participate in your cause.

Here are five nonprofits using Twitter to reach their goals. Follow these organizations for inspiration and ideas on how to effectively use Twitter for your own nonprofit marketing campaign.

1. American Red Cross (@redcross)

In recent years, Twitter has become the go-to place for communications during natural disasters and other emergencies. For many people, Twitter is the first place they look after a natural disaster, to find breaking news and to offer help. The global outpouring of support on Twitter after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the devastating tsunami in Japan prove how important the site has become for a nonprofit like the American Red Cross.

Today, the American Red Cross tweets primarily about natural disasters and preparedness from its @redcross profile. The Red Cross Twitter timeline is filled with useful information but it also contains numerous “@replies” — demonstrating that the Red Cross values conversations and relationships with its followers. Furthermore, tweets incorporate relevant hashtags, so individuals who are searching Twitter for information can easily find it from the Red Cross tweets.

2. Charity: Water (@charitywater)

Charity: Water (@charitywater) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to delivering clean and safe drinking water to people in developing areas of the world. The most effective part of the Charity: Water Twitter timeline is its daily “photo of the day” tweet, which leads to an image and story on the Charity: Water blog.

It can be hard to make a Twitter timeline feel “human”. The Charity: Water photo of the day tweet is a great example of how to develop an emotional connection with your audience that’s so critical for nonprofit organizations.

3. The Humane Society of the United States (@HumaneSociety)

The Humane Society of the United States (@HumaneSociety) works to stop animal cruelty. This is a nonprofit that knows how to connect with its audience on Twitter; its timeline is overflowing with mentions and retweets. In addition, a real person is highlighted in its customized Twitter background. The Humane Society’s new media manager, Sarah, is the person behind the tweets, and she invites people to send her a direct message if they have questions.

The Humane Society is able to raise awareness and engage its Twitter followers with hashtags like “#FelineFriday”, where people are encouraged to tweet pictures of their cats. In addition, the Humane Society’s timeline offers useful information, answers questions, and tells stories about real animals in need — adding another level of emotional connection to the organization’s cause.

4. Make-A-Wish (@makeawish)

The Make-A-Wish Foundation (@makeawish) grants wishes to terminally ill children. The organization’s Twitter stream is extremely active and is updated all the time. It’s not unusual to see dozens of posts published each day — and they’re not just automated tweets. These are tweets between real people, offering useful information, compassion, gratitude, and more.

Unlike some charities that fill their Twitter timelines with self-promotional tweets asking for donations, the Make-A-Wish Foundation offers a much better balance of non-self-promotional and self-promotional tweets.

5. Operation Smile (@operationsmile)

Operation Smile (@operationsmile) works to heal children’s smiles around the world. Tweets from Operation Smile are written in a very friendly style using words like “stoked” and “mega” that make the updates feel more personal. The organization does a wonderful job of sharing children’s stories from around the world through picture and video tweets, while at the same time thanking volunteers and the people who donate to the cause.

If you want a lesson on how to write tweets for a nonprofit in a way that makes people really want to support your cause, then Operation Smile is the profile to watch.

[Image credits: American Red Cross, Ozarks Red Cross, Charity: Water, Spot Us, Rowan, Ken Yeung]