Social proof elevates trust in your organization and boosts support. Explore 5 types of social proof and examples of how to use it.
Think about the last time you bought a gadget online.
You probably asked your friends for recommendations. After narrowing your search to a few comparable items, you eliminated products that had negative reviews or too few ratings. And maybe it was a customer's unboxing video that helped you make your final decision.
Now, think about how much influence other people had on your decision. Your friends, the reviewers, previous customers—it's a lot!
But you're not alone: 95% of people say that reviews influence their purchasing decisions.
This is the power of social proof at work in your everyday life. And you can use this same influence to advance your nonprofit's mission.
So read on as we explore:
What Is Social Proof?
Psychology professor Robert Cialdini coined the term 'social proof' in his book Influence: Science and Practice. Cialdini explains that people mimic others' behavior in uncertain situations. We assume others know more about the situation, so we believe the way they're acting must be correct.
When you read online reviews before buying a new product, you're looking to people who have more knowledge about that product. That's social proof.
When you subscribe to a newsletter because it has 264,117 subscribers, you believe the newsletter must be valuable because so many others read it. That's social proof.
You can also harness the power of social proof for social good in nonprofit copywriting.
Benefits of Social Proof in Nonprofit Marketing
Choosing a cause and an organization to support is a big decision. You have limited time, so where you spend it volunteering matters. You work hard, so where you donate your money matters.
When you see others have had good experiences with a nonprofit, you feel more confident about spending your time and money with them. Their stories convince you the organization is credible and trustworthy. So you can feel proud to be a part of something bigger and sure that your contributions make a difference.
Nonprofit marketing that incorporates social proof benefits both the organizations and their supporters. Use social proof to:
Help people make a decision with more confidence
Build trust in your organization's credibility and authority
Leverage your existing support to drive more support
5 Forms of Social Proof for Nonprofits
No matter your nonprofit organization's size or resources, you can incorporate some level of social proof. In fact, you're probably already using social proof! But there's always room to enhance your current efforts.
How can we make the social proof we're already using more compelling?
Where else can we incorporate social proof in our marketing communications?
How can we make it easier or more sustainable to collect social proof?
Are there other forms of social proof we can begin using?
With these questions in mind, let's explore 5 forms of social proof to strengthen your nonprofit marketing:
Testimonials give potential supporters confidence that your organization is making a real difference. You can showcase testimonials from:
Personal stories build an emotional connection and show the value of getting involved. Research has found that individuals' stories effectively connect people to a larger cause through the singularity effect.
Quotes coupled with real names and photos of the speaker increase credibility. Video testimonials are even better!
The Alzheimer's Association, for example, highlights testimonials from volunteers on their web page about volunteer opportunities. Each story answers questions that prospective volunteers may have:
Why should I volunteer?
What are the other volunteers like?
What impact can I have?
PBS North Carolina similarly uses written testimonials and photos on their website to touch on the many reasons why people support public media.
See how PBS makes it easy to collect stories on an ongoing basis? Website visitors can share their stories by clicking the button below each story and filling out a simple online form.
It's that easy for both the donors and the organization to share social proof! Even if some testimonials aren't quite what you're looking for, you will have a pool to choose from.
PBS goes a step further and produces video testimonials. Every nonprofit organization may not have the resources to produce videos like this. But even simple recordings from a smartphone or Zoom add another level of engagement and credibility. The personal story and emotional connection matter most.
2. Partners and Supporters
If other organizations support or vouch for your work, their brand recognition and credibility can benefit yours. Because if big names like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation support your organization, you must do good work, right?
Consider showcasing your partners' and supporters' logos (with permission) on your website. The George Eastman Museum here in Rochester, NY does this in a few ways.
First, they highlight major supporters in an animated rotation on their homepage. From foundations to government agencies, each supporter lends further credibility to the museum's role in film preservation and photographic conservation.
As an educational and cultural institution, the museum also cites their accreditation and affiliations with professional associations. These logos act as a quick visual representation of the museum's quality and commitment to excellence.
Beyond logos, you can share how major supporters have advanced your work wherever you publish stories: on your blog or social media, in your newsletter or annual report. Or better yet, share positive stories these organizations have written about you!
One caveat to keep in mind: A 2013 study found that communicating corporate sponsorship can have unintended negative effects. Individual prospective donors who see corporate sponsors may be less willing to support a nonprofit because they believe their personal contribution won't make a difference. If you have corporate sponsors, the research team identified tactics to mitigate or eliminate this effect.
3. Wisdom of the Crowd
Being a part of something bigger is a great feeling. Tap into the wisdom of the crowd by highlighting how many people you serve and how many supporters you have.
You can start small by adding data points on your website, collecting 5-star reviews on Google, or building a social media following. Or you could go big with crowdfunding campaigns or giving societies.
If your numbers are low, they may not be persuasive. In that case, choose a more personal form of social proof like testimonials.
Let's look at how one of my community's small nonprofits uses the wisdom of the crowd. 540 W Main provides courses, content, and consulting on antiracism. They include this form of social proof on their website with a slider highlighting key data points.
Not only do they highlight the number of organizations they have consulted on workplace equity, they also include the workplaces' logos alongside it. As we saw with partners and supporters, logos can be a visual shortcut to added credibility and authority.
540 W Main also includes how many members support their work with monthly donations. If 200 people believe in the organization's mission enough to donate on a regular basis, that can be a convincing factor for prospective donors.
On a larger scale, crowdfunding campaigns naturally tap into the wisdom of the crowd. Nonprofit crowdfunding campaigns raise $9,237 on average, according to Nonprofit Source. And the number of your Facebook friends correlates to the probability of the campaign's success. That's the power of social proof.
Whether you're using DonorBox, Chuffed, or GoFundMe, crowdfunding platforms make it easy for your organization to harness social proof in fundraising. Prospective donors can see how many others have already donated. And donors can easily show their support for your campaign on social media.
For example, the nonprofit publisher RIT Press used Kickstarter to successfully crowdfund bringing an iconic book back into print. As prospective supporters landed on the campaign page, they could immediately see how many backers pledged funding for the project.
4. User-Generated Content
User-generated content is any brand-related content created and published online by people who are not official representatives of your brand. It could be a donor's Facebook post or a volunteer's TikTok video.
User-generated content increases your brand's reach and credibility. And you can share or highlight that content as part of your marketing strategy. According to a 2022 survey, 84% of Americans are more likely to trust a brand that incorporates user-generated content into its marketing.
So how can you gather user-generated content? Encourage followers to tag you or check in at your location in their posts. Or you can create a branded hashtag and promote it on your profiles or in your campaigns. Then share their positive content on your social media or website.
Take my local United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes for example. They used thousands of pieces of user-generated content to drive the success of their 24-hour online giving event, ROC the Day.
They created and promoted the use of the hashtag #ROCtheday. Hundreds of local nonprofit organizations and donors posted to the hashtag before, during, and after the event. The United Way displayed a dynamic feed of these posts on the event website, showing the combined impact and value of the event to the community.
Where user-generated content is organic, influencer marketing is more formal. It’s an arrangement with specific individuals to create content about your organization or cause on their platforms.
Your chosen influencers should have sway over your target audience. Someone who has specialized knowledge, insight, authority, or social influence.
Large national and international organizations often tap celebrities as ambassadors, like actress Jennifer Garner for Save the Children. Smaller nonprofits might collaborate with celebrities in their community, like a local newscaster, philanthropist, or small business owner.
Nano-influencers (people with 1,000-10,000 followers on social media) who share your values can also be a good option. Even though their community is smaller, their followers may be highly engaged and concerned about the same causes. If an influencer's community matches your target audience, the influencer's message can be a highly effective form of social proof.
Humans are social creatures. So social proof is persuasive. Inject more social proof into your nonprofit copywriting and marketing strategy to boost your credibility and encourage your audience to take action.