$44 million. That’s how much was raised during a telethon last September hosted to support victims of Hurricane Harvey. Oprah and Beyoncé joined a cast of celebrities encouraging people to give and fielding calls from donors.
And remember those sad ASPCA commercials starring Sarah McLachlan? The ASPCA raised $30 million in just the first two years of that campaign.
These numbers are admittedly larger than many nonprofits can expect to see from any one campaign. But they show the effectiveness of influencer marketing. It’s an increasingly popular marketing trend, where companies partner with well-known celebrities, politicians, and business people to promote their products. And, it’s an effective sales tool—in 2016, revenue generated from influencer marketing on Instagram alone topped $570 million.
You’ve probably seen countless celebrities starring in commercials as a spokesperson for one product or another. But influencer marketing can be much more involved, with influencers sharing their personal stories and placing themselves behind brands.
As we can see from the examples above, having influential people spread the word about a company or product isn’t limited to marketing. It is also an effective fundraising tool that many nonprofits have made use of.
Consumers trust word-of-mouth much more than any advertisement. Fundraising is similar. According to The Georgetown Digital Persuasion Survey, 65% of donors learn about causes from friends and family. Even if potential donors don’t know an influencer personally, seeing a friendly face creates a connection, often leading to greater awareness of and engagement with that organization.
And, as we know, compelling a donor to give requires making a connection with them. If you’re struggling to do just that, influencers can be helpful, because their stories come across as personal, legitimate, and real.
What Constitutes an Influencer?
Sometimes influential people will discover your organization on their own, organically sharing and promoting your mission. Often, however, it’s up to you to cultivate a relationship with individuals you believe have significant influential power to impact your nonprofit.
So, who will you reach out to? Just because a person is influential does not mean they are a good fit to promote your organization. You’ll want to consider how this person and the audience they influence are connected to you and your mission.
First, define your audience. Who are you trying to reach? If your nonprofit works on a local level, consider regional politicians or local celebrities as influencers. And if your work covers a wider area, look for individuals recognizable nationally or internationally.
Also look at demographics. Maybe you’re hoping to increase the number of millennial donors, as your donor base is aging. Reach out to younger influencers who know how to communicate with that demographic. They’ll understand how to best connect your mission with outcomes millennials are looking to achieve.
Lastly, does this influencer embody your mission? If you’re promoting environmental advocacy, it makes sense to connect with individuals known for supporting this cause. Whatever your goals, make sure your influencer makes sense for what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach.
Influencers don’t necessarily have to be known to a wide variety of people. If they are influential within their field or niche, and the field or niche you’re looking to reach, you can create a successful partnership.
The Power of Social Media
One place that influencers have power is on social media. They often have a large, established base of followers that look forward to hearing from them. By generating compelling content that’s tied to the message or mission of a nonprofit, social media mavens can attract a lot of attention for your organization, making a wider audience of people aware of you and compelling them to give.
The Georgetown Digital Persuasion Survey found that 68% of donors decide to give after interacting with a cause through social media. While donors may first encounter one of your social pages, their first contact with you may be from an influencer’s post.
Think of the viral ice bucket challenge from a few years back. Many people became aware of the cause and chose to donate from seeing celebrities and friends completing the challenge, rather than engaging with an official page from the ALS Association.
You can identify potential influencers by examining engagement with your social posts. There are likely certain individuals who frequently share or comment on your content. As with any influencer, social media influencers can have a larger or more modest following, popular on a national or regional scale. Adding a few of these individuals as influencers can have a larger impact than you might think.
It may seem intimidating to ask a well-known person to promote your organization. But it doesn’t have to be. Not every influencer has to be a VIP. Start small, whether by reaching out to people with a smaller circle of influence or just by asking for a minor commitment to start. You could invite a potential influencer to attend or speak at an event, or to volunteer with you for one day. Over time, it will feel natural to increase the influencer role as your relationship with that individual deepens.
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