Online Ambassadors Are Not a Fundraising Crutch

4 Tips to Help You Build a Program that Benefits Your Organization AND Your Online Ambassadors

When you consider how quickly a message travels online and you see the ever-growing list of successful online campaigns that utilize ambassadors – the most recent being Georgetown’s “City Challenge” – it’s easy to assume that online ambassadors are the magic bullet that will lead to Internet fundraising success.

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Online ambassadors make messages go viral …if you build a program around them.
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In part, that conclusion is the fault of people like myself for constantly drilling home the online ambassador or peer-to-peer fundraising concept. Make no mistake, ambassador programs are important and they are powerful. Are you looking to get your message out and expand your base? Social media is the #1 way in which digitally engaged people learn of a new cause …by far. (Source: Georgetown/Waggener Edstrom study) Are you looking to raise more money? A peer recommendation is by far the most effective form of advertising and promotion (Nielsen, 2012 study). So yes, online peer-to-peer activity drives fundraising and might be the single most important thing you can do to raise awareness around a cause. The question is, after you’ve identified and engaged your most influential online supporters, why would they want to help your organization achieve its goals?

Every time we learn of another successful ambassador-driven campaign, it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking our most influential online supporters to do the fundraising dirty work for our organization. Every so often, we send them an email asking them to post a message on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, or whatever social network they’re active on, that asks their social media connections to make a gift to our organizations. This practice of having our ambassadors make online asks for our organization is a component of an online ambassador program – from an organizational standpoint, it’s one of the most important components. But to keep an ambassador engaged and enthusiastic about helping an organization raise money, requires more than just relying on them as a crutch to boost online giving in a pinch. It means consistently, throughout the year, delivering on the needs and wants of that ambassador through a program that makes them feel important to your organization’s success (they are), keeps them informed about the inner workings of an organization (many of them want to know), and rewards their efforts. The following are a few ideas on how your organization might do that…

Keep them in the loop: Part of the criteria for being an online ambassador includes having a strong affinity for your organization or institution, which means they want more information about your organization than the average person. Use the Internet – social media specifically – to deliver that news to your ambassadors. Be sure they’re the first to learn of new initiatives, research, organizational changes, or whatever else is happening at your org. I’d argue your ambassadors should know before the established news media. The news media is there to report the story to a larger audience. Ambassadors will do that, but with more zeal than you’d get from a non-biased reporter. (And the ambassadors’ online friends will trust the news more from them than any other source)

Make them feel as though they’re part of an exclusive club: This is an extension of the above tip about keeping ambassadors in the loop. Being the first to know is valuable in and of itself and is something many ambassadors would appreciate. Other exclusive perks include live video chats with your organization’s leadership, inclusion on a website that recognizes the ambassador’s work, and content created that highlights the ambassadors’ impact (a video “thank you”, for example).

Provide them with a service: What can you offer ambassadors? We know of university alumni associations that have provided free webinars for their ambassadors to help them become better online communicators. For example, a series of six short webinars that give tips on “writing for a blog” or “video editing for YouTube.” Not only does this strengthen your relationship with the ambassadors, because you’re offering them a free, exclusive service, but it makes them better at producing content …which can ultimately be of tremendous benefit to your organization or institution. (See “user-generated content”)

Of course, the webinars don’t have to be about using the Internet. Are you a water charity? How about a YouTube video that helps campers purify water for safe drinking. An Alzheimer’s org? A series of webinars with brain games that strengthen cognitive ability. Again, you’re nurturing relationships with ambassadors and, at the same time, giving them content they’ll likely want to share with their networks thereby broadening awareness of your mission.

Give them free stuff! T-shirts, tickets, and other free items do encourage people to get involved. During their recent UMassGives online fundraising event, the University of Massachusetts Amherst saw some of its highest giving traffic take place when a free UMassGives campaign t-shirt was offered for the next 100 donors. Again, ambassadors are proud of your organization – give them merchandise that helps them show off your organization online and off!

Planning an online ambassador program for your organization or institution? BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware can help. Find his email address and bio by clicking here.


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