Influence Marketing and Fundraising: Why Doesn't It Work?

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Last week we talked about how a lot of companies and organizations approach social media based on the idea of “the influencer.” The hope is that if a very well-known person shares your content, you’ll get a lot of exposure, and hence, you will succeed in increasing sales or raising funds.

As Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella discuss in their book Influence Marketing, this type of approach is not truly ideal for businesses or NPOs, even though it’s what is most often preached as best practice. This week, let’s talk about why this approach does not tend to work for NPO fundraising.

What makes your contributors tick?

When you think about your contributors, especially your consistent, regular, loyal community members, what comes to mind? Most likely, these people already had passion about your cause before your organization came along. Perhaps people contribute to honor a friend or a family member. Perhaps they were encouraged to donate to your cause by another person who is very passionate about your cause.

Can the “influence marketing” model identify those people? Not with great ease.

What is an “influencer”?

As we discussed last week, over the past few years the idea of an “influencer” has been a person with a large online following who probably gets retweeted or “shared” on a regular basis.

The book Influence Marketing argues this point, however. Danny and Sam argue that the true “influencer” is the person whose opinions you truly value. This could be your spouse, your best friend, your siblings, or your parents. What they think truly impacts your decision-making process. If we are all influencers, this automatically changes how the idea of “influence marketing” should be approached.

In the case of a social cause, the influencers you want to reach are people who a) are extremely passionate about your cause on their own, and b) can talk intelligently and convincingly about your cause to people who may consider donating.

The Problem With the “Big Kids”

Occasionally, the world of “twelebrities” and the world of true influencers related to your cause may overlap. However, if your organization is searching for influencers the traditional way, meaning people with big followings on Twitter or other platforms, there are a few obstacles in your way.

1. How many of those followers are real?

There are many ways to rapidly build your Twitter or Facebook following. In fact, you can simply purchase followers or Facebook fans. There are also a lot of spam bots and inactive accounts in the online world. How many of those accounts following your targeted influencer are even human beings?

2. Does the “influencer” actually engage with his or her followers?

Engagement is a two-way street. The ideal person to promote your cause is someone who is well-liked by their online community. That trust and affection can help them more easily influence others to support your cause. If a “twelebrity” essentially tweets at followers instead of with them, your strategy will probably not work.

3. Does the influencer really know your cause?

One thing businesses and organizations learn quickly online is that the “great unknown” is always omnipresent. Let’s say a well-known Twitter-user promotes your cause and someone raises questions about the nature of your organization. Do you want someone who doesn’t really know your cause to handle those kinds of questions?

If all the big name is doing is retweeting your content or offering you a mention here and there, they may not be promoting you to a vital audience or even a human audience. They may not be truly passionate about your cause, or even knowledgeable.

These are all factors that can reduce your fundraising success when using traditional social media “influence marketing” models.

Next week I’ll share some of the key ideas in the book Influence Marketing that will help you approach fundraising efforts in some new ways.

3 thoughts on “Influence Marketing and Fundraising: Why Doesn't It Work?”

  1. Nice post Margie. You bring up some great points in here. I think you’re right on that it’s easy to get caught up in the number of followers a potential influencer has when thinking about amplifying your message. It’s easy to discount opportunities to connect with true influencers with more modest connections even when they’ll ultimately be a much better steward of your organization.

    Will be sharing on Twitter (@wiredimpact) later today.

    1. Thanks David. Yes, this is true across the board in social media – we get seduced by numbers on all fronts and that tends to overshadow what we really need to be thinking about. For NPOs this create big obstacles in the way of successful fundraising and outreach, so it is a real problem.

  2. Defining an “Influencer” as simply a person with a lot of followers and retweets is problematic. The key is to look at who YOUR NONPROFIT’S influencers are – the people who are passionate about your cause and happy to share your message, and who also may have some influence in online communication circles. Will Justin Bieber retweet your message? Probably not, but who cares? But how about the person with 1,000 followers who has a personal connection to your cause or organization? That’s who you want to work with.

    Small Act did a white paper on this topic with Blackbaud and NWF last year: and I wrote a blog post along similar lines:

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