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3 steps to launch an ambassador program for your nonprofit

An ambassador program can help you reach new supporters with help from your most active current supporters. Here's what these programs look like in action.

Kylie Davis
March 9, 2022
Nerd Mr Butter

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Want to reach new supporters? It might be time to start an ambassador program.

An ambassador program for nonprofits is almost identical to a brand ambassador program at for-profit companies. In each case, loyal supporters (or consumers) speak on your behalf, attracting their network to support your organization.

Here's why ambassador programs are effective: Research shows that 90% of people are more willing to support organizations they trust. And frankly, if a supporter is unfamiliar with your organization, they're not going to immediately trust your brand.

That's where ambassador programs come in.

An ambassador program is similar to influencer marketing in that it helps build trust among new supporters with the help of your existing supporter base (with a few key differences, of course). 

Below, we'll explain what an ambassador program is and the tools you need to create one. In addition, we'll share a real-life example of a nonprofit organization who's leveraging their ambassador program to attract new supporters. 

What is an ambassador program, exactly? 

An ambassador program gathers your most loyal supporters to advocate for your organization. These individuals fell in love with your nonprofit and your mission on their own. Now, you're simply leveraging their network to reach a wider audience.

While ambassadors (or brand ambassadors) are often confused with influencers, they are not one and the same. Ambassadors first discovered your organization organically and became loyal supporters on their own. Influencers might only represent a brand because they were compensated for their endorsement.

Brand ambassador programs are used to attract target consumers in a number of industries, including: 

  • Education: Many times, universities will launch student ambassador programs where current college students visit high schools to recruit new students. For example, the CALS ambassador program at Iowa State University helps recruit future students for more than 20 different majors.
  • Sports apparel: lululemon has one of the most famous and successful brand ambassador programs in the apparel industry. lululemon brand ambassadors hold workout events, try out new products, and offer special promo codes to attract new customers.
  • Jewelry and accessories: The accessory company Pura Vida helped build brand awareness by incentivizing their ambassador program (similar to an affiliate program). Loyal customers applied to be ambassadors, then earned points for swag and free products by sharing the brand with their respective social networks.

As a nonprofit organization, you can take the same framework used in the for-profit sector to create your own ambassador program. By creating an outreach program, offering incentives, and recruiting supporters who already love your mission, you can reach a wider target audience. 

Nonprofits creating their own ambassador program: Downtown Women's Center 

Ambassador program: Downtown Women's Center website

If you want to see an example of a nonprofit organization who's built an effective ambassador program, look no further than the Downtown Women's Center in Los Angeles, CA. 

The Downtown's Women Center is committed to ending women's homelessness in LA. To help achieve their mission, they formed their own Leadership Council—an ambassador program where members of the community make meaningful contributions to DWC. The Leadership Council is active across a number of different initiatives, including advocacy, fundraising, and volunteer work. 

Since 2019, the Leadership Council has raised over $100,000 for DWC, and collectively contributed over 400 hours of volunteering. To reach their goals, they've used the following tactics: 

  • Recruiting: As part of the ambassador application process, DWC embeds Givebutter's donation form on their website. Members are immediately set up as monthly recurring donors, offering custom donation levels for various membership tiers.
  • Incentives: The DWC incentivizes different membership levels. For instance, their Advocate level is eligible for a 10% discount on products from DWC’s social enterprise MADE by DWC, while their Community Partner level offers one free ticket to their annual gala.
  • Community building: The DWC ensures its Leadership Council leads by example, playing an active role in accomplishing their mission. Each year, all members participate in two service days and various volunteer activities.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising: While for-profit entities might launch affiliate marketing programs to attract new, happy customers, nonprofit organizations can leverage peer-to-peer marketing campaigns to attract new supporters. DWC’s Leadership Council has launched a number of peer-to-peer campaigns, including their Welcome Home, Residents Campaign, to attract new supporters.
  • Matching gifts: DWC’s Leadership Council has continuously leveraged matching gifts to help reach their fundraising goals. In their Make Her Holiday campaign, two families pledged to match donations up to $10,000, helping them raise a jaw-dropping $32,085 to end women's homelessness in LA.
  • Multi-Team Fundraising: The Leadership Council fundraised in DWC's three-week, multi-team campaign, Together Housed. The Leadership Council went up against other corporations and individuals, collectively raising $114,877 for DWC.

Put it in action: Build your own ambassador program 

​Ready to build your own ambassador program and build long-term relationships with your supporters? Use these tools and tactics to get started: 

1. Recruit potential brand ambassadors 👯

Your brand ambassadors should be current, loyal supporters of your organization. Look through your CRM platform to gain a snapshot of recurring supporters who have volunteered, attended fundraising events, or built their own team for a peer-to-peer campaign. From there: 

  • Invite potential ambassadors to join: Send a marketing email campaign to potential ambassadors, inviting them to join your program.
  • Create an onboarding program: Host a live streamed Q&A with potential ambassadors where they can ask questions about the program.
  • Design deliverables: Work with your marketing team to develop social media posts, conjure up a clever hashtag, and write sample messaging for ambassadors to share with their social media following. Leverage the Canva integration to easily make visually appealing designs.

2. Offer incentives 🎁

The goal of an ambassador is to use word-of-mouth to reach a new audience.

To help persuade ambassadors to share your organization across their social media platforms, consider offering the following incentives:

  • Swag: Offer t-shirts or swag bags with your organization's logo (Psst! Encourage them to snap a photo with their swag and share it across their personal marketing channels).
  • Sponsored gifts: Reach out to local, corporate sponsors to see if they'd offer gift cards to their establishment for your most successful ambassadors.
  • Free tickets: If you're hosting an annual gala or charity golf tournament, offer free tickets to your most loyal ambassadors. 

3. Launch a multi-team campaign 👏👏

Research shows that 92% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on referrals. In other words, if an individual discovers your organization through a friend, they’re much more likely to support your organization.

If you're not using peer-to-peer marketing as part of your overall ambassador program, you're doing your organization a disservice. To put your campaign in action, leverage the following:

Use Givebutter to launch your ambassador program

Saved by the Bell teamwork GIF

For-profit companies often use brand ambassador programs to reach new consumers. However, nonprofits can leverage the same strategy to reach a wider supporter base.

When launching an ambassador program for your nonprofit, create an onboarding strategy, incentivize your program, and launch a peer-to-peer campaign. To accomplish all of the above (and more!), use Givebutter's all-in-one fundraising platform.

Givebutter is the donor-centric, modern platform that comes complete with 130+ fundraising tools, a built-in CRM, and marketing automation. To see how Givebutter helps organizations launch their own ambassador program, take a tour today.

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