What Makes Nonprofit Campaigns Go Viral

4 min read

Every nonprofit marketer has high hopes for a viral campaign. We see the success of campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Movember (No Shave November) or the Human Rights Campaign’s equal sign profile pictures, and we envy that exposure. That’s because we know that the more eyes we can get on our organization’s messages, the more chances we have to get members of our audiences on board with our missions. If just one of our campaigns went viral, we feel like we could take our impact even further.

Of course, there’s no clear way to go viral, because you never know what the public will latch onto, but here are some things your organization can try to improve your chances for buzz and engagement:


Newsjacking is defined by the Content Marketing Institute as “the process of injecting your brand into the day’s news, creating a twist that grabs eyes when they’re open widest.” That means making it clear to the world why your nonprofit’s mission is so important at this moment and how you can make a difference.

How can newsjacking help your nonprofit go viral? Anytime there is a news story that aligns with your own organization’s mission, you can jumpstart a campaign to align with that current event.

One prominent example of this is the American Red Cross, which helps people in the wake of disasters. Of course, the American Red Cross is one of the biggest household names in the nonprofit arena. Their strategy helps them keep that momentum going. Anytime there is a major event or disaster, they immediately launch a campaign to gather donations for relief, and keep audiences updated on progress afterward.

How can newsjacking help your nonprofit go viral? Anytime there is a news story that aligns with your own organization’s mission, you can jumpstart a campaign to align with that current event. Click To Tweet

Influencer promotion

Many people underestimate the value of influencers like celebrities or online personalities, considering influencer marketing to be appropriate only for beauty products or other consumer packaged goods. But influencer marketing is starting to take off in the nonprofit sector, and there’s not much time left to get ahead of the curve by leveraging this tactic for your organization.

If you can build a relationship with and align yourself with an influencer who has demonstrated a commitment to a cause in line with your organization’s mission, it can mean big things for your organization’s reach.

In one of our recent webinars, we spoke to Amy Levner, VP of Marketing and Communications of KaBOOM! about how her organization has engaged with influencers. She shared an excellent example of how KaBOOM! has worked with Kid President, an influencer who is well-aligned with the organization’s mission of giving kids spaces to play.

Creativity and customization

Something new and different will have a better opportunity to attract public attention than the same fundraising or awareness campaign that your organization has always used.

For example, when the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) launched their campaign to encourage Facebook users to change their profile pictures to equal signs in support of equal marriage rights, not only the official photos flooded the social network, but original takes on it from artists and other internet users did as well. People on Facebook were able to customize their profile pictures with their favorite colors, foods, memes and other pop culture references, all while conveying the message of the equal sign.

Since then, many organizations have promoted filters or profile photos, but none as successfully as the HRC original.

Sustainability over virality

Remember: sustained, strategic messaging and support are often even better than a viral moment. Steady growth can be more impactful in the long run than a flash in the pan.

That’s why we recommend that organizations establish strategically-aligned branding and marketing strategies that will help them sustain their messaging and support over time. Then, you won’t have to rely on quick bursts of fame. A moment of virality can be a happy surprise, not a necessity for survival.

Read more about how nonprofits are leveraging viral moments to expand their reach and impact in our resource on tech-savvy organizations.

Leave a Comment