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How Nonprofits Can Identify and Work with Influencers

Erika Heald

Mar 6, 2020

Education and nonprofits often feel that their limited resources shut them out of innovative marketing opportunities. But having a strong community and strong mission opens up possibilities with influencer marketing. When you're ready to implement an influencer program that'll work for you at any budget, we have the guide.

Although much of the influencer marketing conversation centers around consumer brands and their partnerships, influencer marketing is also a valuable lever for not-for-profit and higher education organizations, especially when they inspire micro-influencers within their networks.

One organization that does an excellent job of enabling passionate advocates to get involved and spread the word about their organization is charity: water. They fulfil their mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries by encouraging everyday people to create giving campaigns in their name. This has resulted in couples raising funds in lieu of wedding gifts, to children asking for donations instead of dolls, to YouTube influencers celebrating follower milestones.

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Social Media Can Build Awareness that Leads to Action

Another organization with passionate followers actively sharing the organization’s content on social is the Best Friends Animal Society. With over a million Facebook likes, and almost 200,000 Twitter followers, Best Friends does a great job of engaging with community members and making it easy for them to take action. This level of social engagement has, in turn, led to attracting the attention of pet-loving social media influencers, including one very popular french bulldog, Walter Cronkite, who threw a fundraiser for his birthday.

“I created a special hashtag for Walter’s birthday (#WaltersCheesyBday – ’cause he loves cheese!), and let our Instagram friends know that, for everyone who posted using the hashtag, I would be donating $1 per post to Best Friends, up to $100,” says Walter’s mom Carrie. “Much to my surprise and joy, not only did people post like crazy, but some even offered to MATCH my donation! The posting window was 24 hours, and we raised $636.00! Not bad for a spontaneous fundraiser. “

It’s interesting to note that this collaboration didn’t come about through outreach on Best Friends’ part—it was a byproduct of their overall community-building, influencer relations, and social media engagement. But they smartly noticed an opportunity to collaborate and further cultivated the relationship.

“This wasn’t an official collaboration, just something I decided to do completely off-the-cuff to celebrate Walter’s birthday,” says Carrie. “I reached out that morning to my friends at Best Friends letting them know what I was up to, and they were completely supportive.” In a continuation of this partnership, Walter and his mom partnered with Best Friends for their Giving Tuesday event, and have been actively involved in getting the word out about their 2016 Holiday Super Adoption.

Although it may seem more difficult to appeal to an influencer without a big marketing budget or a sample closet at your disposal, there are a number of ways to identify influencers who will be open to partnering with you. Start by identifying influencers in your network, and creating low-time commitment ways for them to show their support. Amplify those efforts and activities conducted on your behalf, and create additional opportunities for these influencers to spread the word about your organization.

Identifying Influencers in Your Network

Even if your organization doesn’t lend itself to adorable instagrammable pets, if you’re regularly sharing your organization’s content on social media, it’s easy to start identifying influencers within your network.

“I work across several social media platforms and use tools to privately tag various groups of our constituents, including different types of influencers,” said Christina Sponselli, director of social media at the University of California, Berkeley. “I also watch our audience’s interactions with posts and our alumni network, which we’ve developed in-house.”

Sponselli and her team recently concluded a successful 24-hour fundraising campaign, Big Give, that used social media channels to drive over $11 million in donations. Key to this success was a highly-engaged community that was nurtured over time.

“We engage with them online, including resharing posts, privately and publicly messaging them, and we have a social media ambassador program,,” said Sponselli. “This program makes it easy for our constituents to share their Cal pride.”

So how can you start identifying the influencers in your network? By harnessing a Social Influencer Marketing Tool like Klear .

Using your analytics tool, take a look at your organization’s top twitter, Instagram, and Facebook mentions. If you see that mention has a significant amount of engagement, including likes/retweets, add the sender to your prospective influencers list as they have an audience that is shown to be receptive to content about your organization. LinkedIn doesn’t give you as much insight into how any one individual’s sharing of your content influenced the increase of its reach. However, LinkedIn’s profile inclusion of causes individuals are passionate about, and their volunteering history provides an opportunity to uncover supporters who have significant networks you may potentially be able to leverage.

How to Get Influencers Involved

A mix of in-person and online events and one-time volunteer opportunities are a great way to identify potential influencers within your network. That’s how Walter Cronkite’s mom, Carrie, got involved with Best Friends. “I was familiar with Best Friends Super Adoption events, and my friend @chloetheminifrenchie asked us to appear at their NYC Holiday Super Adoption in December 2015,” she said. “I love what Best Friends is doing—so many animals needs forever homes!—and was impressed with their hard work, dedication, and integrity. We stayed in touch, and they asked me to appear at and help raise awareness of their Super Adoption event this past spring as well.”

It’s likely that you have passionate brand-advocates-in-waiting already participating in activities related to your cause in the local community. By tapping into those activities and building relationships, you have an opportunity to work with influencers who will be eager to share your story.

“As far as pet influencers go, we are PASSIONATE about animals and committed to helping them as much as we can,” said Carrie. “Almost every friend I have in NYC contributes in some way to rescue organizations, whether it’s on a local or national level. We foster, we raise funds, we donate toys, we do as much as we can. When it comes to partnering with nonprofits, we definitely do our homework to make sure the nonprofit does everything they say they do. Plus, the social media pet community is very tight, so we can always get a reference. As far as pitching goes, I answer everyone who reaches out to me on social media. So long story short – reach out to us! We love getting involved!”

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Higher education institutions have the benefit of a built-in community, but Sponselli notes that it takes a deep knowledge of that community to move them to action. “What are their interests and passions about your school? What school traditions resonate? Collaborate with your colleagues who meet with alums. Sharing information with one another is a great way to truly understand your alumni.”

Influencer marketing is an excellent opportunity to expand your organization’s audience and reach, while creating more content that engages the community. As you plan for 2017 marketing and communications activities, think about influencers in your network who could be future partners. By nurturing relationships with passionate fans and advocates, you significantly increase the chances of knocking your 2017 communications and fundraising goals out of the park.

No matter your mission or business goals, getting your audience involved in community activities is mission-critical in today’s business climate. To implement a robust influencer marketing program, download our Influencer Marketing Guide.