Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 1: Identification

A lot has been revealed in recent years about the power of friends asking friends to support their favorite nonprofits online. In higher education in particular, we at ScaleFunder have experienced massive online giving success when this peer-to-peer or “online ambassador” activity has been deployed in support of digital efforts such as giving days.

40 percent of donors who give during online giving days are new. Source: BWF.com

For example, did you know that according to a Bentz Whaley Flessner study, during online ambassador-led giving day efforts, 40 percent of the donors who gave were new? (New = either first time or long-lapsed donors to the institutions) Or how about the fact that for younger donors, a peer recommendation is one of the most important factors in making a gift? (Multiple studies) Or how, according to a 2013 Georgetown University/Waggener Edstrom study, the large majority of Internet users first learn of a new cause to support through their online friends’ activity?

So yeah, peer-to-peer or online ambassador activity is important. Fortunately, we at ScaleFunder have developed a four-stage process for building a robust online ambassador program. This blog is the first of four that highlights each of the steps.

Today’s topic — identification of potential ambassadors.

For those with a big enough budget, there is software that can be leveraged to scan your email database and return data on which of those emails are connected to social media accounts. And if you have the extra budget, this is a wise move. But new software is not absolutely necessary — especially in the early stages of building your ambassador program. At a minimum, ScaleFunder recommends you start your ambassador program with a list of about two dozen sure-fire heavy digital hitters. Think of this as your board of ambassadors. (But that doesn’t mean they need to be board members!)

To arrive at your list of top-line ambassadors, we suggest the following three-step approach:

Select those you assume might be ambassadors…

This group is made up of the young board member who is VP at their digital agency and is always online. Or the baby boomer who got hooked on Facebook to follow their grand kids, but then realized they could have a high school reunion every day on the platform. The personas are varied, but you can probably think of a few off the top of your head. And you know these potential ambassadors are always using social media, because you follow them on twitter and LinkedIn. (Because, of course, at least someone who engages with donors is heavily active in social media …right?)

Some of the easiest to engage early ambassadors are those who you can safely assume use digital media to engage about your cause or institution. In many cases, you might have had conversations with them about their digital support of your mission. This group should be instrumental in populating your first list of potential online ambassadors.

Select those you observe who appear to be ambassadors…

The person who likes AND comments on every. Single. Post. You know who these social media users are, because you can’t not know. Their constant following and engaging with your social media is unavoidable and out there for everyone to see. And this is a good thing, because by observing their digital behavior you have identified some potential online ambassadors. Add them to the list.

Finding ambassadors through ambassadors…

After you’ve engaged and onboarded the first group of ambassadors who you identified through assumption and observation, then work with this small, but growing group to expand the program. Online ambassadors often know others who would make good ambassadors. Ask them to recruit their connections to grow your program.

Using the above tactics, any organization of any size should be able to develop a strong core unit about about 15 to 25 online ambassadors. That is more than enough to get started and the only investment is your staff’s time.

Product update — ScaleFunder’s Giving Day module (Launching February 29, 2016) includes an online ambassador toolset that tracks the real fundraising ROI of your ambassadors. For the first time, nonprofits now have access to a Giving Day platform that not only deploys ambassadors, but provides data on exactly how much each individual ambassador brings in during the event. To learn more, contact me, VP of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware, at justin.ware@scalefunder.com.