10 Tips for Charities (and Other Organizations) That Want to Work With Influencers

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Over the last 20 years, I've been a philanthropic advisor to dozens of high-profile people, primarily professional athletes and entertainers. Sometimes that means helping them create and implement their own charitable initiatives and other times it means finding strong charity partners.

Given the current widespread interest in working with high-profile people, now commonly referred to as influencers, I'm frequently asked to share tips on how charities can help position themselves as ideal partners. Here are a few of my top recommendations, most of which apply to any organization that is seeking a relationship with influencers. Just replace "charity" with your company's name:)

  1. Nurture influencers like the new donors they are. A common mistake made by many charities is making a big ask before they have meaningfully engaged influencers with their organization or with the cause. That why it's critical to...

  2. Set realistic expectations within your organization. A big part of my job is managing charities' expectations. An influencer needs to be nurtured and educated about your charity just like any other potential new donor. He may be committed to your cause but he still needs to understand why he should be involved with you versus other charities working around the same issues. How much time does your charity usually take getting to know a traditional donor before making an ask? Take longer than that. Especially if an influencer is young, new to philanthropy, and new to wealth.

  3. Be respectful of their time and aware of their time restrictions. This is a good rule for every donor but even more critical for people working in sports and entertainment who have strict schedules that are often out of their control. NFL players only have one day off a week during the season. They can also be required to attend a last-minute football practice on a dime. A well-known TV actress with whom I worked never knew when she was filming because the script for her TV show was that tightly guarded. Asking her to make an appearance was a non-starter, despite her genuine commitment to the cause. Skilled charity partners acknowledge these restrictions early in the relationship and develop creative and effective ways to work around them.

  4. Be respectful of how many asks they get. The more influence, the more asks they receive, especially when an influencer has a personal connection to a cause. Just because someone has a child with autism doesn't mean he has the time and resources to support every autism organization in existence. Like anyone, an influencer has to make difficult decisions about which charities to support. Implying that an influencer "should" want to give to you because of his personal connection is offensive.

  5. Be specific about what you want. If you are asking for an in-person appearance give specific times for when the influencer needs to arrive and when he can leave. Do you want him to speak? If so, for how long? Who else will be in attendance? Will he be expected to walk a red carpet? Will he be expected to do interviews? Keep the information easy to skim if it's in writing but provide enough details so that advisors reading the request can understand the level of commitment involved. By reducing the need for advisors to ask additional questions, you are making it easier to for them to say yes. Don't throw in everything but the kitchen sink in your ask. Prioritize what is important to you and ask for that. Otherwise, those reading the request will likely assume that every ask you make is equally important.

  6. Spend time learning about what's important to them. Don't make assumptions about their priorities based on what you've read or heard. Many public figures are shy in their private lives. Asking them to have a one-on-one experience with donors, like auctioning a private dinner, might make them deeply uncomfortable. On the other hand, they may love volunteering their time with kids, so asking them to do an in-person visit with children may be a powerful way to engage them.

  7. Be aware of safety concerns. Always consider safety for any appearance or interaction influencers may have with the public. You have no idea what security issues they are dealing with and they probably won't tell you. If an influencer does not want to publicly announce her appearance in advance, don't argue or cajole. Agree without hesitation.

  8. Always get pre-approval for the usage of their names and likeness wherever you use them, including press releases, websites, and marketing materials. A team of people, including the influencer, work day-and-night to manage messaging and branding. I've seen a lot of charities skip this step, usually because they are simply unaware of the need to do so. It can have a devastating impact on the relationship. If that happens...

  9. Be honest and transparent. A good rule for all relationships in which you hope to build trust and mutual respect. Don't mislead. Don't overpromise. If you make a mistake, admit it. What may seem like a small detail to you, ( see #8) may be a priority to someone living in the spotlight. If you get caught being deceptive, you likely won't get a second chance.

  10. Stay in your lane. Don't bring for-profit ventures and ideas to influencers or their team of representatives that are unrelated to your charitable work. Don't give them a script you've written. Don't ask them to invest in a for-profit company your son started. I consider this the third rail in my consulting practice. As simple as it sounds, it can be tough when a friend or family member asks me for help sharing their passion project with a client. My relationship with my clients is based on a shared commitment to making the world a better place. That's what sets me apart from most of the daily interactions they have with other people around them. If I sacrifice their trust about my priorities then I make myself ineffective. Similarly, a charity may lose credibility if its representatives appear to have any priorities other than best interest of the charity.

Feel free to post or direct message me with additional ideas or questions. It's been 20 years! I'm sure I'll think of a few more recommendations based on your input:)

Stephanie Sandler