Influencer Marketing 101: What Is It & How Can Nonprofits Benefit?

Influencer Marketing 101

The growth of social media presents a new way for organizations to organically connect with potential consumers through influencer marketing. Consumers look to these popular influencers to help them make informed decisions about which brands they should align with and, ultimately, spend money with. By aligning with relevant influencers, your organization can leverage their audience network to help drive traffic and conversions on your site.

What is a social media influencer?

An influencer is essentially a prominent figure on social media that has acquired a dedicated, highly engaged audience. Their followers trust their recommendations, are interested in their daily activities, thoughts…you get the point. They act as content factories in the sense that they create and share original content that resonates well with their intended audience. Many influencers are bloggers of some sort, be it written or video blogging.

Types of Social Media Influencers

There are three main types of influencers: top-tier, power middle, and micro.

  1. Top Tier Influencers – Top-tier influencers are typically public figures who have extremely high reach, somewhere between 700K -1M+ across all social platforms. These influencers are notable, well-known, and usually have spent years building up a highly engaged audience. Influencers of this stature normally do not work for free and typically have experience working with bigger brands who have larger budgets.
  2. Power Middle Influencers – Power Middle influencers usually have moderate reach, somewhere between 50K-100K followers across social. They are more likely to have agreeable cost requirements or none at all as they are still building out their audience and brand. Marketers are starting to notice the potential with these influencers, growing with them as their brand and audiences expand.
  3. Micro Influencers – Micro influencers have relatively low reach, 10K or less. Social media is full of micro influencers and they are the pool with very highly engaged audiences. Micro influencers exude a level of relatability and accessibility that really resonates with consumers and can be used to the benefit of brands/nonprofits.

Why work with influencers?

Aligning with popular social media personalities can be a great way to present your organization to a new audience and gain potential donors and volunteers. Our awesome Campaign Strategy Whaler, Greg Thomas, outlines the three main purposes of using influencers:

  1. Legitimacy. Enlisting influencers can increase your organization’s legitimacy with the public, especially those who aren’t familiar with your organization. This is very helpful for new organizations that have track records of success and want to spread their name through a trusted source.
  2. Press. Some influencers fare well in the eyes of the press. These are typically top-tier influencers who they can rely on to drive click to their sites. If getting press for your organization is an important goal, choosing a press-worthy influencer is a great way to attach your organization to a trusted name.
  3. Tribe Activation. This is how most brands work with influencers. Often, this is what social online influencers are used for, which is why you’ll see influencers with their own YouTube make up tutorial channels doing sponsored posts for cosmetics brands, and so on. Online influencers with an engaged hoard of followers offers a great opportunity to drive traffic to your organization and hit some of your engagement KPIs.
By aligning with relevant influencers, your organization can leverage their audience network to help drive traffic and conversions on your site.Click To Tweet

Identifying the Right Influencers

“How do I know who is right for my cause?” Identifying the perfect influencers to work with doesn’t have to be difficult. Start by laying out the goal of the program. Think about the type of impact you want to leave on social media. Do you simply want to reach a lot of people? Does your organization care more about engagements than impressions? Do you need donations?

Once the overarching goal and needs of the program have been assessed you can then begin to think about the “face” of the program. Are you trying to reach more women or men? What demographics does your cause focus on? Which values are important to your organization? What is the aesthetic you’re looking for? From there you can begin to search for the perfect influencers.

Here are a few methods on how to locate influencers:

  • Email Lists: You may have influencers scattered throughout your email lists so that would be the best place to start. These would be people who are already aligned with your cause and would be more inclined to share content for you.
  • Google Search: If you have a very specific audience you’re targeting, say mommy bloggers, a Google Search can go a long way. While this is a more primitive and time-consuming method, it works.
  • Analytics: Use your social media analytics to see your organization’s top Facebook and Twitter mentions. Look at which of those mentions have a significant number of shares or retweets. This person could be a potential influencer.
  • Social Media: Scan through Instagram or Twitter hashtags related to your cause. If you happen to land on an influencer worth exploring, use the Suggestions feature (the arrow next to the follow button) to find pages with similar content.
  • Tools: The most efficient way to identify influencers, especially if you have very specific program parameters, is to use a influencer identification tool. While there are many, Tracckr has been the most successful (and practical) thus far. You can search influencers based on profile terms such as name, title, city, affiliation, or bio terms, as well as Twitter profile names. There are also general filters for location, language, gender, platforms (social media, YouTube, and RSS), reach, relevance, and resonance. The bonus feature of this tool is that you can search based on content! This means you can search using phrases, terms, and hashtags that people are using in discourse around your topic/cause. The influencer database they pull from is ever expanding so you’re sure to find the person you’re looking for. While the tool is helpful, it is not cheap. We recommend this tool if your organization plan on activating influencer programs often.

How to Engage & Work with Influencers

Engaging with influencers online is like baking a cookie. While there are many different ways to bake a cookie, there are some staple ingredients you need to make it a good cookie. There is no one way to reach out to influencers, each influencer requires their own, distinct approach. However, there are a few ingredients you should keep in mind when reaching out:

  • Do your research! Prior to reaching out, take a couple days to engage with them on social media. Share their posts, leave comments and likes. This will aid in relationship building. Each email should have a few personalized lines to show that your organization is a fan of theirs and that you’ve been following them for some time. Acknowledge their value. Linking to a piece of content on their site helps.
  • Build a relationship. It is very important that you initially build a relationship with the influencers. They like to align with organizations that offer long term possibilities that can be mutually beneficial.
  • Be clear about the ask. Be very clear about what you want them to do. Keep in mind, you want to start out with a small ask that will require little work on their part. As you build the relationship, you can ask for more complex tasks but in the beginning keep it easy and simple.
  • Don’t mention compensation in the upfront. Especially if you don’t have a budget to pay them. Send them the ask and address compensation when/if they ask about it. Keep in mind blogging/social media is a business for these influencers. If you have no budget to pay them, make sure the ask is simple, requires little to no leg work from them, or will be beneficial to them in some way.


When working with influencers, relationships are important. When the project or activation is over (granted it ended positively and successfully), let them know you’ll keep them in mind for future campaigns. Check in with them occasionally, see what they’re doing and see if there’s a way your organization can help. This way the relationship is mutually beneficial and they may work for free in the future.

What’s The ROI?

“Is it worth it?” If executed properly, influencer marketing could greatly expand your organizations reach and further your impact on and off social media.

For example, last year the Best Friends Animal Society was able to raise close to $1K in 24hrs for a spontaneous online fundraiser by engaging with popular community members within their network and making it easy for them and their followers to take action. Influencers created a special hashtag, encouraged their followers to share a picture with the hashtag and they would donate one dollar for every share (up to $100). People loved the activation so much other followers began to share and even match donations!

Leveraging an influencer’s follower network can result in more followers, donations, volunteers, and ultimately increased awareness. Followers trust these influencers so they would be more inclined to support them and in turn, support your organization.

Need more ways to build your social media network? Follow us on Twitter to get ideas on how to grow your followers + our list of additional influencer marketing resources.