Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Positioning your nonprofit as a thought leader means that when you share your views on the issues you champion, your opinions are taken to be authoritative and influential. It’s about becoming the de facto voice that people hear in their heads when they think about your nonprofit's cause and field of expertise.

There are several ways to do this, but it's important to begin by understanding that thought leadership is a commitment and not a campaign. It’s not a strategy that you can implement or an initiative where you say, “Okay, let’s create a robust campaign to become a thought leader.” It’s about conversing with constituents and educating the community. Here are three items to focus on in regards to thought leadership.

  1. Commit to creating and posting great online content. 
    When you do this, you’re adding value to the conversation. If I’m interested in a topic or an issue related to your cause and I find valuable and relevant content that you’ve posted, it adds value to my perception of that issue. Furthermore, it adds value to my life. If I begin to perceive your nonprofit as an authority on the subject, it means you’re becoming a thought leader. But again—this is a commitment, not a one-off thing. Posting valuable content should be a constant action item.
  2. Consider yourself an established expert.
    Someone’s got to step up to the plate and be the expert on this particular cause, this purpose, this issue. Why shouldn’t it be you? Go ahead—step up and be the established expert. Be confident and comfortable in that role. But don’t limit yourself; this isn’t just about posting stuff on your nonprofit's website. You may also want to post on relevant forums or participate in online discussions, contributing as a representative of your organization. Don’t be shy—get the word that you and the people from your organization are the established experts in your area. When you believe it, the rest of the world will follow.
  3. Inspire action.
    People love to be inspired, and you can do this by your words, by your online content, by your choices and by your conversations in your community. You want to inspire people to take action in a way that aligns with your mission, and it’s okay to tell them exactly what you’d like them to do. Think about it: What do you want people to do as a result of learning more about your organization and how it’s impacting the world? Once you have the answer, tell them. Ask people to come alongside and partner with you, whether that means giving a gift, volunteering, attending an event—whatever it is, inspire people to act.

I’ll put in a plug here for blogging because a well-maintained nonprofit blog makes it possible for people who are interested to stay updated on what you’re accomplishing. A blog allows you to position yourself as a thought leader, and it gives you your own real estate on the web where you can continually offer your views and opinions on important topics.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn—these are all additional tools you can use to establish your nonprofit as a thought leader. Just remember what I said initially: thought leadership is a commitment, not a campaign, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

In the end, thought leadership is about the wizard not the wand.