Guest post from Blackbaud intern, Ben Baker. Ben works on Blackbaud’s Corporate Communications Team, is a Graduate Student at University of Texas School of Advertising (Hook ‘Em) and a Mississippi native. Ben loves his beautiful wife, pretzels, everything about football and all things social media.

Everybody wants to be a VIP.

Take airlines for example. In May 1981, American Airlines launched the first planefrequent flier program in history with a simple philosophy – the more you fly with AA, the more perks you receive. Free flights. Free hotel. Free car rentals.

Since that fateful day in 1981, frequent flier programs have exploded. To date, there are more than 70 frequent flier programs worldwide spanning over 100 million members. Member receive 10 million awards per year. You don’t even need free stuff – people enroll just to board a few minutes earlier than everyone else, to have a chance to walk on red carpet,… to be a VIP. You can be a member of any “class” you can think of – business class, bronze class, gold class, platinum class, first class, tungsten class, plutonium class, chemistry class. Whatever class you want to be, you CAN be. And every class has its perks.

The reason people chase “the miles” is to achieve some sort of VIP status with the airlines. Whatever it takes for an extra bag of pretzels. People want to feel special – want to feel a sense of belonging. Of importance. It is written in our DNA. As nonprofits, YOU can make someone feel like a VIP. YOU can make someone feel important. And, in the world of social media, you don’t even have to give away free flights or hotel rooms.

As a nonprofit on a limited budget, you can make someone feel like a VIP by offering them a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. To this point, we could all take a feather out of the Winter Olympics’ cap. No doubt, at this point, you have all heard or seen news or events surrounding the events that are happening in Sochi. What most people don’t realize is that the Olympics committee has also done an excellent job of using social media to take its viewers behind the TV cameras.

The Olympics Athletes’ Hub is an online lounge for all things social when it comes to Olympic athletes’ social accounts. From here, you can see athletes’ tweets, Instagram pictures and Facebook feeds. You can follow your favorite athletes’ social accounts by creating your own customized feed. In total, the Hub does a good job of making the Olympics your own and giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening and when.

Now can you imagine if that happened with Make-a-Wish’s San Francisco Batkid batkidthat went viral a couple of months back? Imagine if, throughout the program, those involved with making that amazing story a success were posting Instagram pics of what exactly was going on in order to make that event so fluid. I have to believe that those following along with the story would feel even more of a new found appreciation for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and would be more willing to throw in donations for more projects such as that one.

So maybe you don’t put on programming that would create interesting behind-the-scenes content. After all, the Winter Olympics and amazing Make-a-Wish campaigns are extreme examples, right? The great news is, with today’s advances in social, another way that your donors and participants can feel important is by user-generated content. At your events, no matter how uninteresting you think they are, participants will feel important and appreciated if you encourage them to tweet or Instagram about the event and then take those posts and publish them for the world to see.

So how do you do this?

Thankfully, these days, there are many ways that you as a nonprofit coordinator can encourage participation such as this. First off, encourage the hashtag. For those of you non-tech-savvy folks, those are the words you see in posts that have the pound sign next to them (ex. #throwbackthursday, #selfie, #sfbatkid, #food). Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will see these hashtags and then organize all posts featuring those hashtags into one consolidated stream. By encouraging the hashtag in emails and ads leading up to your nonprofit event, people will be prepared to use that tag and use it often.

pretzelsThere are many websites that you can use to take all of this user-content and organize it for your needs. One of our favorites is Topsy, which allows someone to search a hashtag or topic then organizes all posts across multiple channels into one stream. Also you can use the free web software If This Then That to take all posts and photos using your hashtag and filter them into a Dropbox folder or Google Drive to then use as needed. Once you have these posts, publish them on your website to make your participants feel the love.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be leveraging these free resources to make your audience feel like VIPs. You may not have any red carpet for them to walk. You probably can’t offer extra bags of pretzels. Most likely, you don’t have the credentials to put someone into the sterling silver class. However, you can offer a feeling of importance to someone buying into your cause, and that’s a feeling that everyone desires.

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