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How can NGOs leverage influencer marketing to raise awareness — and donations — for critical issues?

Images of marine life choking on plastic or children starving from malnutrition are a far cry from the glossy isn’t-life-perfect visuals that otherwise tend to be front of mind when one thinks of Influencer Marketing on social media. And yet despite an initial hesitancy, non-government organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit associations with serious messages and big stories to tell are increasingly turning to the medium to raise both awareness, and funds.

And yet despite an initial hesitancy, non-government organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit associations with serious messages and big stories to tell are increasingly turning to the medium to raise both awareness, and funds. For NGOs and nonprofit organizations, breaking through the noise on social media with Influencer Marketing follows a similar game plan as for any other brand, with success measured by engagement and conversions. But the job itself is more nuanced: budgets are tighter, messages are more complicated to explain, and young audiences more difficult to engage.  They must also battle crisis fatigue, get into people’s hearts and entice them to part with money for a cause that perhaps does not offer the instant gratification of a lipstick, a new pair of sneakers, or smartphone.

That said, NGOs and nonprofits often have the advantage of being founded in grass-roots activism, making them well-versed in leveraging local communities to get petitions signed, beaches cleaned, children’s sports grounds built... 

Key Takeaways

  • NGOs and nonprofits are increasingly recognising the power of influencer marketing to further their causes;
  • Influencer Marketing campaigns offer NGOs and nonprofits a powerful medium for reaching new and younger audiences;
  • Content creators are often willing to adapt social and environmental messages to their content, but need support from NGOs in doing so;
  • Video platforms YouTube and Twitch offer big opportunities to engage and educate audiences around social and environmental issues.

Applying knowledge and learnings from grass-roots actions to social media

At their very essence, NGOs’ activities IRL are not dissimilar to social media influence, where swinging communities behind a cause, a brand, or a product is the end-game of every campaign. 

One NGO founded from the ground up is Surfrider Foundation Europe, which was established 30 years ago by a group of surfing buddies in the French southwestern coastal town of Biarritz. Today it is a recognized heavy-weight in EU policy-making circles for ocean protection, climate change, environmental, and plastic waste reduction issues. 

On the ground, Surfrider is a local reference across Europe for its beach cleanup and education programs, and has long leveraged an ambassador program of personalities to raise awareness for its cause. Some 18 months ago, it appointed a dedicated communications manager, Amandine Lermigeaux, to structure and ramp up the program with dedicated influence actions. 

“With the rise of digital and influence, the question arose of the need to develop a real strategy to flesh out the ambassador program and make sure it progressed,” explains Lermigeaux. 
“There was a need for someone to structure things within the association, someone who knew how to talk to [content creators], knew how to use the codes [of influence] and who could find better profiles according to the needs.”

Overcoming the fear of the unknown to reach new audiences

To date, the growth of influencer marketing has been driven by the runaway success of how-to beauty tutorials, the meteoric rise of young, charismatic social media stars, and the success of new Digital Native brands that have risen like phoenixes from the ashes of old-school marketing to take on the world. 

It’s fair to say, then, that Influencer marketing has not been readily associated with the NGO sector. Established nonprofit associations prefer to — and are adept at — raising funds from traditional mail and emailing campaigns, and awareness through glossy television adverts featuring big-name personalities. 

Many remain protective of limited budgets, and worried about the potential for brand damage a viral bad buzz could deliver. 

German marketing agency Gallafilz has been running campaigns for NGOs since it first signed the child protection association SOS Kinderdorf some 20 years ago. Today, it leverages influencer marketing campaigns with awareness and conversion goals on behalf of some half-a-dozen NGOs. 

However, many in the sector continue to be wary of launching influencer marketing, comments Gallafilz Head of Digital Marketing Elisabeth Krautbauer.

“It depends on the goals of the organization and also very much on their internal mindset; some are very open to the idea of content creator marketing and they try it in various campaigns, but some still hesitate; they’re a bit scared because it’s new and they don’t know yet if it fits for them,” comments Krautbauer. “The bigger the need is for new, younger target groups, the more open they are to the idea of trying it.” 

But as societal norms change and audiences increasingly turn to social media for both entertainment and educational purposes, nonprofits must overcome some key challenges if they are to have a healthy future. 

Not least, is the fact that audiences most relied on for donations are older; recruitment of tomorrow’s donors needs to begin now.   

We combine cross-channel marketing to enable them to stick to the old things that work, because if you talk about young target groups in the NGO word, they are 35 to 50 years old. The main target groups are oftentimes 60 years or older, they won’t be around forever,” comments Krautbauer. 
“We consult on how to reach [these younger target groups]. Content creator marketing ticks a lot of boxes in this sense.”

Fine-tuning complex messaging: the challenge for NGOs

One of the greatest challenges facing NGOs and nonprofits working in influence is ensuring that complex messages are communicated without errors. Influencers partnering with NGOs and nonprofits must be able to effectively engage their communities around messaging that may be scientific, heart wrenching, political, or just plain dull. 

For many in the sector, this is a key barrier to launching influencer marketing campaigns.

“You have to be OK with having some wiggle room, some room for error because the influencer is not an expert on the NGO,” comments Krautbauer. “It might happen that they get some facts wrong, or not use the same words as the NGO would.”

When it comes to climate change and environmental messaging, the playing field becomes even more muddied. Such topics are steeped in complex scientific reasonings that need to be explained in a manner that is easily understood. 

A lot is riding on new generations taking up the cause and the complicated messaging is often beyond the knowledge base of creators with the biggest audiences who need to be reached.

For this reason, comments Surfrider’s Lermigeaux, it is important for NGOs to assist influencers as much as possible, by providing them with thorough briefings and straightforward fact sheets that make it as easy as possible for them to incorporate the message into content. 

“When we run campaigns with lots of profiles, we create very specific communication kits with key messages, links and tags to include, visuals, etc. It’s a one-page Word document because it has to be easy to read on the phone and the message has to be clear,” she comments.

Supporting content creators to be their best selves

For NGOs, success in reaching new audiences will be found in onboarding content creators with good intentions but perhaps little experience of the sector. Reaching out and engaging young creators and audiences across a variety of sectors and platforms will help build the activist and donor networks of the future.   

“It's up to us as NGOs to support these profiles, because there's an audience out there; traditional media is a little less viewed, and the social networks exist thanks to these content creators,” comments Lermigeaux. “It's up to us to engage them, or at least to support them with the language elements. The role they can play — even if they're not perfect — is to re-share these messages.” 

Obviously for NGOs and nonprofits, the question of the budget available to pay content creators is a significant pain point. As is the case with IRL actions, many NGOs must depend heavily on volunteers to create content, meaning they often play second fiddle to other commitments in the creator’s agenda. 

Experts say that in the increasingly professionalized world of influencer marketing, it is important to try to pay creators at least a small amount for their work. 

“We know it's hard work for them — it’s like asking for a free advert on TV,” comments Lermigeaux. “There's less and less of this possibility in influence, because it's a job that requires payment. When I can pay, I do. If not, we pay for travel expenses which is the obvious thing to do if I invite them to an event.” 

There are also clear advantages to NGOs and nonprofits paying content creators where possible. Establishing contracts with small payments goes to ensuring that the content will be done correctly. 

“One great way to check if [a content creator is] a good fit is the money aspect because we don't pay them much,” comments Krautbauer. “If we offer to pay a small amount and they have a million followers, that's not at all a normal amount they would receive. If they don’t agree with our values or our messages, they’re not going to agree to spread them for this amount. For us, it’s a kind of control mechanism to see if they have an internal motivation to do it.”

Twitch: the rising star of social consciousness among the social networks

As is the case with any branded influencer campaign, NGOs and nonprofits must adapt their campaigns to the platform most suited to their goals, with each having its pros and cons. 

And let there be no doubt, when it comes to reaching wide swaths of donor audiences for conversion purposes, Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram are the clear front runners for NGOs. Paid creator ad campaigns on these platforms are particularly effective for reaching and engaging new audiences. 

A creator ad campaign we did on Instagram for [international blood cancer and bone marrow foundation DKMS] delivered 200% more conversions than the glossy campaign made by an agency,” comments Krautbauer.

Meanwhile, streaming platform Twitch, with its 7.3 million channels streaming monthly, and concurrent viewers average of 2.5 million, is rapidly emerging as a rich destination for the NGO sector in influence. 

Known for its tight-knit, loyal and young communities, Twitch streamers have a long history of staging and promoting charity events. These range from France’s annual Zevent — which in 2022 attracted 500,000 viewers and raised €10.1 million for ocean protection and environmental associations — to individual charity streams run by streamers to support their favorite causes. 

Twitch is a great place to really engage with the community,” comments Krautbauer. “It’s a great pool of people. We’ve worked with at least 75 Twitch streamers who have supported good causes. They are definitely open to it.” 

Partnering with Twitch creators has two key advantages for NGOs: the community’s readiness to engage with the topic via the chat, and the level of exposure available. 

“Oftentimes you have more room because they stream for six hours and they might talk about you for five minutes; it’s very hard to get someone to talk about you for five minutes on Instagram,” comments Krautbauer. 

Many Twitch creators and their audiences overlap on YouTube, where videos have the advantages of the platform’s massive 2.7 billion active users, powerful search engine and long lifetime. 

A YouTube video in which Surfrider partnered with @Inoxtag (6.55 million followers on YouTube) has been viewed 3.4 million times, for example. A simple concept, the video featured streamers in several cities around France attempting to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the most cigarette butts collected in a single day, with educational messages disseminated throughout.

“Inoxtag did a really good job in this video; we made him a one-pager with all the elements which he included almost word-for-word. He also recruited [well-known French science expert] Jamy Gourmaud to present the environmental message: why and how cigarette butts are major ocean polluters, the impact on health, biodiversity, and the environment,” comments Lermigeaux.  
“Using someone more knowledgeable to talk about these elements in the video was a really smart way of doing it, while Inoxtag’s message was simply to say: stop smoking, stop throwing your stuff on the ground, it pollutes. The message got through and there was nothing but good feedback on these videos.” 

Clearly, Influencer Marketing is a brave new world for NGOs; but serious opportunities for making a positive impact lie within. 

Interested in learning more about Kolsquare’s preferential pricing and services available for NGOs and nonprofit associations? Click here to book a demo with one of our influence experts.

About Kolsquare

Kolsquare is Europe’s leading Influencer Marketing platform, a data-driven solution that allows brands to scale their KOL Marketing strategies and implement authentic partnerships with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). Kolsquare’s technology enables marketing professionals to easily identify the best Content Creators profiles by filtering their content and audience, and to build and manage their campaigns from A to Z, including measuring results and benchmarking performance against competitors. Kolsquare has built the largest community of influencer marketing experts in the world, and offers hundreds of customers (Coca-Cola, Netflix, Sony Music, Publicis, Sézane, Sephora, El Corte Inglés, Lacoste, …) the latest Big Data, AI and Machine Learning technologies to drive inspiring partnerships, tapping into an exhaustive network covering 100% of  KOLs with more than 5,000 followers in 180 countries on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As a Benefit Company, Kolsquare has been pioneering Responsible Influence by championing transparency, ethical practices, and meaningful collaborations to inspire change.

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