Get Savvy on Social: How to Find and Leverage Influencers for Nonprofits

It happens all the time. Someone publishes a heartwarming post on Facebook and all of a sudden an organization has dozens of new volunteers and donors. In fact, over half of people who engage with nonprofits on social media end up taking some sort of action. This is not just a testament to the networking capabilities of social media; it’s a testament to the power of influencers. After all, social media is nothing without content creators.

So what does this mean? Simply put, nonprofits should use influencers to harness the power of social media and thus gain exposure for their organization. Last month I wrote about the ambassadorial abilities of internal influencers (AKA employees), so now it’s time for the flipside: external influencers.

Nonprofits are in a unique position to attract influencers because of their nature as nonprofits: they perform good works. Influencers are keen to associate themselves with nonprofits because the work is fulfilling and boosts their personal brand. It’s a win-win relationship.

According to a Statista study, in 2017 influencer content outperformed branded content in the U.S. at least 39 percent of the time. Influencers are a valuable asset because they provide impressive exposure and engagement for the budget-tight nonprofit at little-to-no cost.

The simplest way to find and leverage influencers is through a three-step process: defining the type of person or organization you want to work with, learning the best methods to find them and knowing how to use their skills.

1. Who You Want

There are three kinds of influencers. The first is the “everyday influencer” who is passionate about your organization’s ideals and has a modest-but-loyal following on social media. The second is the “media influencer” who writes a blog or column with content related to your organization. The third is the “VIP influencer” who has attained celebrity status and has a connection to your organization.

We have a variety of influencers at Camp Corral, like NBA All-Star Antawn Jamison. He helps raise awareness for Camp Corral and its programs, and every year he offers dozens of Camp Corral campers the opportunity to attend his All-Star Basketball Camp free of charge. Our largest influencer-base is the parents of campers who take to social media to share their experiences with us and their support of Camp Corral.

An influencer doesn’t have to be a person, though. It can also be an organization. Nonprofits might consider partnering with companies that share similar missions. By partnering with a trusted organization you can increase your brand’s credibility, reach a new audience, and offer access to helpful resources. For instance, Disabled American Veterans is one of Camp Corral’s signature partners and supporters.

Here are three things to keep in mind when defining your perfect influencer.

  • Make compatibility your top criteria. This means seeking out influencers who like your business strategy and share your vision for the nonprofit. When you have the same views on messaging and what constitutes success, social media interaction will be an open dialogue rather than an obvious marketing tactic.
  • Look for users who are unique to your field. Their innate passion for your nonprofit’s subject means talking about your organization will feel natural to them since they already share content similar to your brand. Plus, their audience probably already has an interest in your field.
  • Find an influencer who is trustworthy, reliable and authentic. While evidence has shown that people trust peers over advertisers, no one will trust an influencer who comes across as insincere.

2. How to Find Them

Like any project worth your efforts, finding influencers requires research. But when conducted strategically, the research process can lead to people, groups and subjects you had never considered before.

  • Start your search process by defining the interests of your target audience. By finding what kind of content they like, you can determine who your audience follows and which platforms they use.
  • Look through hashtags that are relevant to your brand on social media, as well as mentions of your own organization – potential influencers are users who have high post engagement.
  • Check out the accounts of organizations related to yours. If the same few names keep showing up on follower lists, you might want to look into them as influencers. Even better: if you discover a friend of a friend, work those mutual connections! At Camp Corral, we might focus on YMCA and 4-H camp accounts, military bloggers, veterans’ organizations and child psychology experts to start.
  • Put yourself out there! Once you have a few people or organizations that you feel confident are a good fit, it’s time to reach out to them. If your influencer is local, make an effort to meet them in-person at industry-related networking events.
  • Remember that the most obvious influencers can be the easiest to reach! Refer to your email lists of members, subscribers, donors and volunteers. This large group of people constitutes the everyday influencers that may benefit your brand the most.

3. How to Use Them

Now comes the fun part! Once you have created a relationship with the right influencer, you can plan posts, activities and collaborations that suit your brand. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Pose questions to influencers on social media in order to spark a discussion.
  • Show your influencer some love on social media! The best influencer relationship is a mutually beneficial one. Retweet their posts, comment on their blogs, quote them on social media and generally make sure the world knows that they’re a great person (or organization).
  • Run joint social media contests to raise awareness for your nonprofit, co-host an event or create content like graphics, hashtags and videos together.
  • It’s all about endorsement. Encourage influencers to retweet and regram posts they like from your nonprofit.
  • Send out an email to your base of everyday influencers asking them to share a specific post with their friends on social media. Your fundraising event or campaign will get a natural boost from a diverse group of people. Just don’t forget to say thanks!
  • Remember to provide influencers with support and guidance by clearly outlining goals, collaborating on creative content ideas and communicating well.

Like finding friends in a new city, cultivating relationships with influencers requires time, effort and confidence. But just like with the best friendships, the outcome is rewarding. A great influencer relationship not only increases your organization’s legitimacy and reach, but is also fun, symbiotic and food for the nonprofit soul.


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