Book & Guide

Social Media Influencers For Online Fundraising

There’s a lot of hype surrounding social media influencers. Everybody wants to find and engage them to drive their online fundraising campaigns.

But are they worth the effort? Are the tools and metrics available effective at leveraging them? And who are these people anyway?

Put simply, social media influencers are trusted voices that drive conversation and action within their communities. And yes, they can be a huge help to your campaign, but only when utilized well.

They are not a magic wand, nor a tool, but real people.  And when you build a relationship with them, they can help you build relationships and spread the word about your cause with even more people.

Let’s talk about how to find, engage, and use social media influencers to drive your online fundraising or crowdfunding campaign.

The Power of Influence

social media influencer

Social media influencers can take your campaign to a level you couldn’t reach on our own. They have the power to:

Expand your audience

Influencers have their own (large!) networks that may not overlap with yours. They can help you reach people that you couldn’t. And they can connect you with other influential people as well.

Raise awareness

Social media influencers are great at spreading the word. They can share content about your cause and your campaign to educate their audiences. The more people who know about what you are doing, the more will want to get onboard.

Inspire action

This is the climax of your efforts – taking people from being strangers, to being aware, to becoming supporters. Social media influencers get you there by motivating their networks about your cause and encouraging them to become involved.

A Real Life Story: SXSW4Japan

In 2010, Leigh Durst was organizing a fundraiser for victims of the Japan earthquake at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and actively engaged social media influencers.

The result: thousands of people across the country rallied to help Japan. They raised over $125,000 in online donations within a matter of days.

The secret? Durst boils it down to two factors:

  1. Do something remarkable.
  2. Get the word to the right people.

“When you have a compelling story that is actionable, and tell the right people – influence happens.”

Durst and SXSW4Japan worked with key industry social media influencers like Jay Baer and Brian Solis to spread the word about their campaign and ways people could contribute. From there, it snowballed. Samsung and Pepsi got on board.

Major musicians – including Hanson, Ben Folds, Natasha Bedingfield, and Kina Grannis – came together and recorded 12 hours of live-stream sessions. With support from Amazon, they developed a digital charity album with proceeds going to the Red Cross.

The SXSW campaign gave people tangible ways to get involved as well as letting people contribute wherever they could.  Durst explains,

“We basically said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, and if your conscience dictates, here’s how you can get involved.’  We let people help us on-site.  We let people print cards for us.  Hugh McLeod (Gaping Void Cartoonist) drew us a logo. Hugh Forrest and Guy Kawasaki mentioned it in their keynote presentations. So we had a true mix of online and offline involvement.”

“We encouraged people to share, text donations, donate online, and create their own fundraising pages on our CauseVox site. We tried to give people options and make it simple.”

Durst and her team created an environment where people from all walks of life could contribute what they had – big and small.

The thing to remember about social media influencers is that they are real people, and should be treated as such.

There are a lot of practical steps you can take to identify and find influencers (and believe me we will get to those), but at the end of the day, it’s about building relationships.

Durst concludes: “I’d assert that the best way to harness the power of influencers is to do something remarkable.  Influencers love a good cause, a remarkable achievement, a great story – and they like to share those things.  Build relationships online and in the real world. Share the stories of others, act like a human being and be remarkable.  The world is craving people like this and I’d say that’s where true influence lies.”

The Profile of an Influencer

So what do these compelling people look like? Social media influencers come in all shapes and sizes, but they share these four characteristics:

1. Credibility

A social media influencer must be trustworthy in order to have an effect. Health policy experts or veteran journalists, for example, may offer expertise in their field that gives their opinion weight. Reputation is important. An influencer should be known as someone who is thoughtful and accomplished.

2. Reach

The posts, tweets, and updates of a social media influencer should be seen by as large an audience as possible. This is where having bundles of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and blog subscribers becomes key.

3. Quality contacts

A large audience isn’t enough in itself, however. Social media influencers should be able to prompt discussion and interaction within their networks – retweets, shares, and replies. Social media influencers’ contacts are quick to engage the content they share.

4. Relevance

The influencer that is right for you should be relevant to your field. A food critic might be credible, have reach, and quality contacts – but probably wouldn’t be the right representative to endorse your campaign on prison reform. They could, however, be great to engage about bringing a nutritious food program to schools.

Types of Influencers

Social media influencers aren’t all the same. Depending on your campaign goals, endorsements from some influencers will be more effective than others.

Sometimes you want the prominent industry blogger, sometimes it’s the testimony of a well connected supporter or client. Identifying different kinds of social media influencers will help you employ their specific skills and networks for the goal of your campaign.

Klout’s Influence Matrix breaks influencers into 16 categories:

Small Business Trends offers a more condensed rundown on five influencers that can help your nonprofit.

They include:

1. The Social Butterflies

These influencers know everyone, and everyone knows them. Their contact lists are off the charts and they have a presence on most platforms or networks. Their strength is connecting people.

2. The Thought Leaders

They are the expert bloggers, the conference speakers, the academics. Credibility is their strong point – they lead and influence opinions about key issues. Their endorsements are reliable.

3. The Trendsetters

The first to try everything, these influencers are quick to discover and share the latest technologies and innovations. They have a knack for popularizing new initiatives.

4. The Reporters

Disseminating information is their forte; they have the connections with (or are themselves) the industry’s top journalists or bloggers. They know how to take a great idea and get it maximum coverage.

5. The Everyday Customers

Their sphere of influence is usually much smaller – friends and family – but their voice is still important because their testimony comes from experience. At your nonprofit, this person could either be a successful client or someone who ran a marathon to fundraise for your cause.

Determine which kind of influencer is right for your cause and keep that in mind while you’re doing your search.

Searching for Social Media Influencers

So now you know all about social media influencers. The next step is to find the ones to kick-start your campaign on your online fundraising website.

People love making lists of influencers. Forbes has their top 50, and market researcher Tom H.C. Anderson has his top 10.

But are these influencers the right ones for your campaign? Not necessarily.

Radian6 summarizes eight steps on how to find and friend influencers in your field.

1. Google it

Search for news articles, blogs, and industry papers relevant to your work. Make note of the authors as well as the people they are citing or quoting. You are probably already aware of a lot of these people if you’re up to date on your industry’s news. Once you pick some characters, start a spreadsheet to track them.

2. Twitter stalk

Plug these names into Twitter and start following them. Add their handles to your spreadsheet and make a note of any other interesting facts you find about them.

3. Keep searching

You can also find people on Twitter that you may have missed on Google. Run a Twitter search for industry keywords and keep track of your findings.

4. Measure influence

Use Klout or a similar platform (discussed below) to get stats on the influencers you’ve found and measure their relevance. You can use these tools to find more influencers, too.

5. Make your own decisions

There’s a lot of chatter about social media influencers, and hype over people who are the “most” influential. But at the end of the day, only you can decide who is right for your cause and your campaign.

6. Cross platforms

Do more than just follow your influencers on Twitter. Like their Facebook pages, subscribe to their blogs, add them on LinkedIn, Google+, or wherever you can find them. This increases your chances of being able to engage with them on a more personal level by showing interest in their work.

7. Lists and Circles

Make groupings of your chosen social media influencers on Twitter and Google+ early on to aid your interactions with them. You can make this public or private – but if you’re going public be careful how you display them. If you’ve never contacted these people before, you don’t want to appear contrived.

8. Build Relationships

When you’ve identified relevant social media influencers, you have to engage them. Start by reading and commenting on their posts as well as sharing their content. It can take time to connect with them on a meaningful level.

We’ll share more tips on how to do this later on in this guide.

Power Tools to Find Social Media Influencers

There are tons of online tools you can use to use to find social media influencers and measure their power. Here’s a guide to our four favorites. is the only solution built for nonprofits which drives engagement with your existing supporters. This affordable plug-and-play solution is integrated with leading nonprofit CRM’s and shows what your supporters are saying and sharing on social media, and who is influential, so you can better target your supporters via email and social media.

  1. Identify “influencers” hiding out in your CRM – Find your existing influencers based on network reach, topic relevancy, prior interactions.
  2. Listen to your influencers. – See what your influencers are saying in real-time about your campaigns on social. Monitor for opportunities and engage at the right time.
  3. Trending content – See which terms, hashtags and media and your influencers and supporters use most. powers influencer engagement, fundraising, advocacy campaigns and multi-channel delivery of real-time, personalized communications.


Klout gives influencers a score in three categories:

  1. True Reach – The number of people who react to content a user shares; they retweet and reply.
  2. Amplification – How many people share the content and spread it further.
  3. Network – The amount of influence people within the True Reach category have, based on whether or not their followers continue to share and engage with their content.

Klout also determines in which topics users are most influential, which is a great way to find out someone’s relevance.

Klout gathers information from more social networks – including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, YouTube, and Instagram – than any other program.


Kred also measures influence and reach based on how users and their networks retweet, reply, and follow each other’s content.

Unlike Klout, Kred gives a breakdown of activity, updates, and score in real-time. It also lets users add offline “real world experience” like company size, certificates, and other achievements in order to boost their score, giving a broader picture of influence.

Kred places users into different categories/communities based on their bios and keywords from their content. This allows you to see in which areas they have the most sway.


As another leading social media influencer ranking site, PeerIndex gives scores based on authority, audience, and activity.

  1. Authority indicates how much others rely on someone’s recommendations or opinion
  2. Audience reflects the size of one’s following and compares it to others’
  3. Activity shows how much one interacts with and engages different topic communities

The use of topics can narrow the measure of someone’s influence to a specific community. PeerIndex also compares the influence of different users with great graphics. However, PeerIndex only pulls information from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quora.


While certainly not a low-budget option, Traackr provides in-depth services for finding and engaging with influencers in your industry. They have a highly sophisticated algorithm that tracks people across their entire online presence.

Traackr’s scores are based one similar criterion as the other tools – Reach (size of audience), Resonance (ability to engage community), and Relevance (contribution to your topic). They also offer detailed analytics, influencer profiles, and geo-specific results.

Their pride is in connecting you with “people who matter” and drive opinion. Then Traackr provides you with insightful information on these important people.

There are lots of more tools out there. You can get the run-down on 30 free tools.

At the end of the day, identifying social media influencers is not enough. The hard part that we’ve been hinting at comes next – how to build relationships with these influencers and get them to support your cause.

How to Build Relationships with Social Media Influencers

In order for an influencer to be effective in your campaign, they need to care about your cause.

You can’t fake this.

Social media influencers are people, not prospects. When approaching influencers, look for people who would take a sincere interest in your issue – not someone who is out for perks. You have to be genuine about your cause, and win over these influencers through honesty and conviction. Use your people skills – they apply both online and offline.

As Eric T. Tung, social media and online marketer extraordinaire, says: “Any social media network of value grows organically, not artificially. But just because you can’t force or buy growth doesn’t mean you can’t nurture it.”

Here are five ways to engage social media influencers and recruit them to be a voice for your campaign.

1. Share their content

Initiating a relationship with a social media influencer can start with something as simple as retweeting. Share their content regularly – whether it’s by reblogging, posting on Facebook, or on your other social media networks. Let them know that you are a fan of their work and are actively engaging with it.

2. Educate them

Once you and your influencer are on friendly terms, give them the inside scoop about your organization – why and how you do what you do, and how you are making a difference in a field you both care about. Help them understand your core values, and give them the know-how to educate others as well. 

3. Host them

Ask them to write a guest post for your blog. Or host a Q&A on Twitter or Facebook. Having an social media influencer engage with their audience on your platform, or your audience on their platform, will result in the mingling and expansion of both of your audiences and will strengthen your relationship.

4. Give exclusive offers

To give an social media influencer incentive to engage with your organization, offer perks like special tours, client meet-ups, interviews, and other inside-access benefits. Invite them to high-class fundraising events with VIP benefits. If they are going to give up their time and leverage their audience in your favor, you should give them extra reason to do so gladly.

5. Thank them

Make sure to show your appreciation after every time an influencer engages with you. Send personal notes in the mail the old fashioned way, and thank them publicly on your website, blog, Facebook, or Twitter after they have interacted with you there. Give them merchandise and other perks. These also act as an incentive for further engagement.

A Grain of Salt

As Leigh Durst reminded us at the start of this guide, social media influencers are real people. And real people have both an online and offline presence. You need to look for social media influencers in both places in order to truly boost your campaign.

Influence is a tricky thing. The tools we’ve outlined can be extremely helpful, but they’re not the whole story. Most importantly, you need to follow your gut and use your real-life knowledge of people and relationships to make the best of social media influencers.

Go forth!

Now that you have the inside know-how on social media influencers, start incorporating them into your fundraising strategy.

There may already be influencers within your network – engage them first. Then use these tools to seek out and capitalize on a wide field of influencers.

With these endorsements, you can catapult your campaign to another level and recruit entire networks and communities that you may not have reached otherwise.

There are lots of other ways to make your fundraising social. Check out these CauseVox tips for more info:

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