Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 4: Stewardship

This is the fourth installment in a four-part series. To read from the beginning with “Stage 1: Identification” click here. Or head over to the ScaleFunder blog to read all the posts and much more.

Great – so now you have a fully functioning online ambassador program that you’ve deployed to boost fundraising and expand your mission and message. And if that’s the case, then you’ve only begun your journey as the curator of your increasingly-important, nascent online ambassador program.

Online ambassador programs that are nurtured throughout the year – as opposed to a program that is only periodically activated for a giving day or other special event – drive enormous year over year gains for the institutions that dedicate resources to expanding those programs. For a great example have a look at Santa Clara University and their giving days. In late 2012, SCU launched an online and social media strategy that, among other things, incorporated the use of a small but dedicated group of online ambassadors. Those ambassadors helped secure a huge first giving day for SCU 18 months later in April of 2014 when the Broncos raised approximately $800,000 from 2,900 gifts during the inaugural #AllinforSCU. SCU’s marketing and communications team stayed in close contact with their growing team of ambassadors long after the giving day. The marketing team also poured resources and effort into a great content marketing strategy throughout the year. By year two, SCU’s #AllinforSCU had jumped to $1.22 million from more than 4,800 donors.

Additionally – and perhaps most importantly – donors acquired during giving days often retain at higher rates when online ambassadors are part of the equation. After Columbia University’s first Giving Day in 2012, donors acquired during the Giving Day retained at a higher rate than those acquired through all other channels. It’s possible that high retention is due to those donors seeing their friends (who were the ambassadors) share throughout the year and during the next giving day.

So how do you steward ambassadors? In many ways, ambassador stewardship is no different than volunteer stewardship…with one glaring difference.  When you treat ambassadors well, they not only feel good, but they are motivated to serve as user-generated content machines throughout the year and beyond.

Stewardship for all to see!

North Face sends its “Locals” ambassador free merchandise to thank them and encourage them to share positively on social media.

For example, look at how North Face encourages people to share, via social media, their experiences with North Face gear through the North Face Locals ambassador program. (H/T to UC Santa Barbara’s Kristiana Almeida for introducing me to North Face Locals!) “Locals” are sent free gear to test and talk about on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Not only does this ingratiate your audience when you send them free items (that they care to receive), but it creates content highlighting your mission. In this case, the North Face’s mission is making people happy through the use of great gear, which the ambassador will recommend to their friends, family, and follower. The user-generated content that comes from Locals ambassadors is authentic and deeply effective at driving sales. The same is true of fundraising asks – they are FAR more effective when they come from a trusted connection.

So, think about how your institution or organization might send free perks to your online ambassadors to drive content and ambassador engagement. Do you have a big sports program on campus? Send them a signed jersey or a poster-size image of center court. Are you in healthcare? Send your ambassadors a free healthcare kit to help live a more healthy lifestyle. Water charity? Send beautiful, framed imagery from the village after the well was turned on for the first time. You get the idea…

Use experiential rewards!

More and more, we see people touting “memories over stuff”. For some of your ambassadors, and experience can be more powerful to share on social media than their new t-shirt. So what can you offer? Dinner with your president or executive director? A trip to Africa to see the impact of their support? A back stage pass to a concert where the performer is also a supporter of your mission? Just like with the North Face Locals program, when ambassadors are rewarded with experiences that they want and treasure, they will almost certainly share it via their favorite social networks.

This is especially important for those ambassadors who are major donors or who have major donor potential. Experiential rewards for financially capable ambassadors do more than create content, they allow for face-to-face meetings with gift officers and become real opportunities to increase the donors’ giving levels.

Analyze your data!

Of course, you can always (and should always) go the simple route of rewarding those ambassadors who bring in the most donors and dollars through their digital sharing activity. Be sure you are tracking and analyzing this data on a routine basis*. It could very well be that an online ambassador who never gives more than $25 per year could end up having more impact than a major donor, because that annual fund-giving online ambassador introduces three new major gift prospects to your institution as a result of their sharing activity. So build an incentives program that rewards ambassadors for new donors and dollars they bring in to your fundraising program.

*Shameless plug – ScaleFunder’s Giving Day module (launching on February 29, 2016) tracks real-time fundraising impact of online ambassadors.