How to Empower Your Supporters to Market On Your Behalf

8 min
Korrin Bishop

Ninety-two percent of consumers will trust the recommendation of a friend or family member over any type of advertising, and reviews from fellow consumers are the second most trusted source. Classy’s report Why America Gives also shows that 46% of survey respondents say they choose to donate to a cause if a family member or friend asks them to. In addition, 50% state that a friend or family member being personally affected by a cause would motivate them to give.

Your supporters are your most effective brand evangelists, and after they have volunteered, donated, or attended an event at your nonprofit, they interface with people who may not have heard about your work. By giving them the right tools and encouragement, you can empower supporters to market on your behalf, multiply your reach, and strengthen your audience’s trust in your brand. Having your supporters market on your behalf is especially important during times when you may have to cancel in-person events or meetings.

Below, we provide tips and strategies to turn your nonprofit’s supporters into your marketers. Each falls under three key elements: ask, provide, and incentivize.

Free Download: The Digital Marketing Checklist

Ask for Your Supporters’ Help

People are hardwired to want to help, but paradoxically, we also greatly underestimate how likely others are to help us. The uncertainty and fear of rejection that come with making an ask also trigger the same brain regions as physical pain, often keeping us from making the ask in the first place. 

You may hope your supporters will organically share your work, but the foolproof way to make sure they do is to ask them. Keep the following in mind to make a successful ask:

Ask for Help in a SMART Way

You may have heard of setting SMART goals, but there’s also a SMART way to ask for help. In this case, SMART stands for:

  • Specific – Be clear and direct about what you need
  • Meaningful – Explain why you need it
  • Action-oriented – Pick a need that supporters can complete
  • Real – Be authentic in your ask
  • Time-bound – Provide a deadline for your ask

Supporters can better respond to a SMART ask because they know exactly what you need, when you need it, and why.

A non-SMART ask may look like this: 

We really need some help getting more volunteers for our food bank.

That framing leaves supporters with too many questions: When? What kind of help? Why the sudden need? They may ignore your ask rather than take time to ask for clarification. 

Reframe your request to make a SMART ask, such as: 

Given current public health concerns, many of our regular volunteers are unable to come in to help us package food boxes, but we’re also facing higher demand for them. 

Could you share this flyer on your social media today to help us recruit volunteers that are considered lower risk for severe illness by the CDC? They will need to register online by Saturday at midnight to help us sort and package food this Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.. After they register, we’ll send them critical instructions for measures we’re taking at the food bank to ensure social distancing during this effort. 

By sharing this message with your network, you’ll help us have the capacity we need to ensure no one goes hungry during this difficult time.

Make Your Asks Individually

When you ask a group to do something, human psychology often results in a diffusion of responsibility. Each person in that group assumes someone else in the group will respond to the ask, so no one does.

If supporters see that there are a few dozen other people on your email asking for help, they may assume you’ll already get enough help from others who respond. Likewise, if you put out a generic call for help on social media, they may scroll by thinking it has already reached enough helpers.

To avoid having your ask missed in a diffusion of responsibility, send emails addressed to individuals. You can also create social media posts that tag specific people. For example, if you want to promote ticket sales for your annual gala, you could send a tweet tagging an attendee from last year, asking them to share a memory from the event and why others should join them at this year’s.

Give Supporters a Positive Identity With Your Ask

Children are more motivated to help with cleanup when they’re asked if they want to “be a helper,” rather than asked if they want to help. People give more money to nonprofits when asked if they want to “be a generous donor,” rather than asked if they want to donate. In both instances, the asks are framed to give a positive identity to those who choose to help.

If you’re trying to get a supporter to share your latest fundraising campaign, ask them if they’d like to “be a key helper” in getting your message out. Let them know that by “being a generous donor” and encouraging their friends to join in, they’ll help your nonprofit reach its goals.

Building gratitude into your asks can also evoke a positive identity for your audience. Using closings for emails such as “thanks in advance” yield response rates of 63% to 66%, whereas common options like “best” fall between 51% to 54%. Make sure every ask comes with a thanks.

Provide the Tools Your Supporters Need

Fifty-two percent of Americans say they’re usually trying to do two or more things at once. Given the already busy lives of your supporters, make sure they know you’ll provide assistance to help them with your marketing ask.

That way, even those without a marketing background can feel secure in knowing they’ll be helping you in the ways you need. You can do this by providing your supporters with simple tools. Some examples include:

Offer a Simple Story to Share

Supporters want to share your story, but might not know which parts to focus on. Create an elevator pitch they can use to share your mission with their networks. Make it simple but compelling by combining data-driven results with a strong emotional hook. 

Let’s say you’re a food bank running a fundraising campaign to fill the gap for students who aren’t receiving lunches over the summer. An example script your supporters could use may look like this: 

Every $10 raised by Chester County Food Bank feeds a family in our community for three months. Last year, their campaign helped 2,000 children not go to bed hungry while on summer break from school. The need in our county has grown, so please join me in a goal to double the number of children we can provide meals for this year.

Free Download: How to Tell a Story [Worksheet]

Create Easy Social Media Opportunities

If you’d like supporters to help with your marketing through social media, create posts that are easy for them to engage with and let them know when you’ll be sharing them. Some examples could include:

  • A fill-in-the-blank prompt you ask your supporters to respond to in the comments or re-share with their answer, such as “I support Chester County Food Bank because…”
  • A list of tweet-sized posts supporters can copy and paste to their social media accounts on advocacy days, like this list from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance 
  • A special hashtag for your campaign that supporters can use, making it easy for you to find and re-share their posts
  • A photo-worthy tie-in to your campaign where participants are encouraged to share a selfie on their social media, such as wearing a certain color that supports your nonprofit’s cause or growing a mustache in solidarity with the event

Provide Printable Hard Copy Materials

Emailing your supporters downloadable flyers and brochures about your nonprofit that they can print out gives them an easy way to spread your message. For example, a supporter talking about your mission at their monthly Toastmasters meeting could end their talk by providing or emailing their audience a handout on how they can get more involved. Branded postcards are another fun way that supporters can share your message with their networks.  

Incentivize Your Supporters’ Efforts

Providing external rewards for your supporters who take time to market on your behalf is a good way to motivate them for short-term campaigns or advocacy days. More personal, emotional-based rewards can give them intrinsic motivation to keep sharing your mission with their audiences. 

To empower supporters to market on your behalf, you should use a mix of incentives to keep them connected to your goals. These could include the following:

Leverage a Match

Mentioning that donations to your fundraiser will be matched by a large gift from another donor increases the response rate to your appeals by 71% and the average donation amount by 51%. People like to know that by helping you now, they’ll be able to help even more through those match dollars. Match campaigns can be a great way to entice your supporters to help you market your efforts.

Respond on Social Media

If supporters use your hashtag or share your work on social media, interact with their posts to show your appreciation. Retweeting, liking, or commenting on their posts reinforces that their efforts to help you market your work matter to your nonprofit.

Send Personal Thank Yous

A handwritten card or an email directly to a supporter who has given their time to your cause adds a personal touch that can make them feel seen and appreciated. They will remember that thoughtful follow-up the next time you ask for help.

Acknowledge Supporters Publicly

Public acknowledgment via an award, certificate, or commendation is the top way workers like to be recognized for their efforts. Publicly thank supporters who go above and beyond with their marketing help, such as through a shout-out in your newsletter or an award at your next gala event.

Provide Branded Swag

T-shirts, water bottles, or other swag with your logo can work double-duty for your marketing efforts. You can use them as incentives for supporters to meet goals for sharing your campaign with a certain number of people, or as a gift for those actively involved in social media advocacy efforts. No matter how you use them as an incentive, the swag will also continue to get your name out to new people when worn or carried around town.

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising is the gold standard of turning your supporters into evangelists, as well as increasing their lifetime value to your organization. Peer-to-peer fundraising allows supporters to create their own fundraising pages for your cause. 

Free Download: Understanding the True Financial Potential of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

They then share these pages with friends, family, and community members to solicit donations on your behalf. With a trusted peer asking for the donation, people can be more willing to give. To encourage supporters to start a personal fundraising page, use the strategies described above to ask, provide, and incentivize. 

Let’s use an example for the previous Chester County Food Bank scenario on how they might engage their long-time volunteer, Sam, for a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Sam loves volunteering for Chester County Food Bank, but hasn’t thought about how he could help with fundraising. Remember to ask SMARTly and individually, and associate a positive identity with your ask. 

Sam is a busy college student who also works part-time at the local coffeeshop. He doesn’t have much free time to organize a fundraiser. He needs you to provide the tools and resources to do so, such as an easy-to-use, intuitive fundraising platform with a template for his fundraising page and example messaging he can send to his network.

Since this is Sam’s first time fundraising, he’s a little unsure whether he should do it. Incentivize the activity for him, such as by showing your appreciation for his involvement or letting him know his efforts will be matched.

To incorporate the above, your outreach email to Sam might look like this:

Hi Sam!

First, thank you so much for being such an amazing volunteer. You’ve really helped us meet our needs during this stressful time. Because of your dedication, we wanted to reach out to see if you could be a crucial member of another initiative.

In the summertime, many children lose access to healthy meals they typically get at school. We run our Meals for Students Campaign every May to fill this gap. Every $10 raised during this campaign feeds a family for three months. 

Last year, the campaign helped 2,000 children not go to bed hungry while on summer break. This year, thanks to a matching gift, each donation will be doubled, so we’re hoping you can help us feed 4,000 children this summer!

We’ve made it really easy to start your own fundraising page that you can share with friends and family. If you can be one of our generous fundraisers this year, I’ll send you a link to the template so you can create an account and be ready to collect donations within just five minutes.

I’ve also attached a one-pager with some language you can copy and paste for emails or social media posts to share your fundraiser.

Let me know if you have any questions on this. We’d love to have fundraising pages set up by next Friday. Thanks in advance for being such a core part of our success!

Jane Smith, Director of Volunteers

P.S. What’s a good mailing address for you? I’d love to send along one of our new water bottles as a little token of our appreciation.

Ask, Provide, and Incentivize to Empower Supporters to Market on Your Behalf

Volunteers, donors, and event attendees all interact with their networks after supporting your nonprofit. By empowering your nonprofit’s supporters to become your nonprofit’s marketers, you can increase the reach of your message and leverage effective peer-to-peer fundraising methods. To get started, ask for their help, provide them with the right tools, and incentivize their efforts.


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