As the COVID-19 crisis intensified earlier this year, pop singer Ariana Grande began taking to Twitter every week to share a list of organizations she was supporting to help provide relief to those hit hard. As a result, organizations such as The Bail Project, Fund for Families and The Mental Health Fund saw a significant jump in contributions and new donors.

With the competition for donation dollars fierce these days, nonprofits increasingly are turning to so-called influencers like Grande to help drum up interest in a cost-efficient manner. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

The case for influencers

If influencer marketing didn’t work, for-profit companies wouldn’t pay the Kardashians buckets of money to tout their products on their social media accounts. These sponsors realize that influencers have ready access to the thousands, if not millions, of people who follow them online.

For most of these followers, influencers have a built-in credibility on a wide range of topics. When an influencer promotes a nonprofit, that organization immediately assumes an air of legitimacy with his or her followers. They may explore the cause more thoroughly or just immediately click a link to donate.

Of course, for nonprofits, it’s also hard to beat the cost-efficiency of influencer marketing. By connecting with a charitably minded influencer, you can get the word out about your cause or campaign to a mass audience fast and at virtually no cost.

3 steps to success

Like your other marketing initiatives, effective influencer marketing takes planning, preparation and continuing work. Here are some essential steps:

  1. Find the right influencer. The right influencer can increase awareness and generate support and donations; the wrong one can hurt your reputation or worse. That’s why you need to consider more than just his or her number of followers.

First and foremost, you must ensure an influencer’s values and interests align with those of your mission. It’s also critical that an influencer’s interest in your organization be genuine. Social media consumers can sniff insincerity from miles away, so successful endorsements and calls to action require authenticity.

Bear in mind that not every influencer is a celebrity or entertainer. Journalists and authors, subject matter experts, academics and other thought leaders may have smaller audiences, but their followers might be more engaged with their areas of interest. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, for example, includes various nonprofits on his annual holiday guide of “presents with meaning.”

  1. Cultivate the relationships. To make the most out of influencer marketing, take the time to build true relationships with your influencers. Don’t treat your interactions as purely transactional.

Establish rapport and common cause and do what you can to shine a light on influencers’ charitable acts on your social media and elsewhere. Give them branded swag, share accomplishments and invite them for a tour (even virtually) or to events.

  1. Help them help you. Give your influencers the tools they need to help you. Begin by establishing expectations, possibly in writing. Lay out your respective roles and responsibilities, with timelines and suggested tactics.

Provide them with all of the information they’ll need to clearly carry your message — for example, facts about your cause, success stories, details about upcoming events or campaigns, graphics, photos, and links to make donations or to volunteer. Depending on the influencers, they also might appreciate some assistance drafting their posts. Remember, though, that their posts must reflect their own voices.

Play the long game

Ideally, your influencer relationships and support will run for many years. As time passes, check your results against your goals and adjust as necessary. With patience and planning, influencer marketing can provide a substantial boost at little to no cost.