In a recent episode of our customer success webinar series, How Blackbaud build a thriving advocate community, I had the opportunity to chat with Tim Newborn, Customer Advocacy and Engagement Manager at Blackbaud. The world’s leading cloud software company powering social good, Blackbaud launched its advocacy community Blackbaud Champions in 2014, with the goal of facilitating peer-to-peer interaction and driving business value for all customers. 

When Tim joined the advocacy team in 2017, he soon became the sole program owner and found himself in the unique position of shifting its advocate engagement strategy. Given creative freedom and encouragement from leadership, Tim collaborated with many cross-functional teams, expanded beyond demand generation tactics and implemented a multi-channel model that has led Blackbaud to a 340% increase in engaged advocates.

Read on to learn how Tim has achieved this success, helps drive value for internal advocates and his philosophy around customer advocacy. 

Q: What have you learned about customer advocacy through your time at Blackbaud?

In my experience, a good advocate marketer is someone who is empathetic and resourceful. My Southern upbringing taught me the love of storytelling, doing what you can with what you have, with what you know, and helping anyone you can.  Customer advocacy lends itself well to my five rules for success, which are:

  1. It doesn’t matter where you start
  2. Whatever you do, always put people first
  3. Give unconditionally and always be of service 
  4. Strive for originality
  5. Listen and validate

Q: How do you scale advocacy inside Blackbaud Champions? 

A: Honestly, it amazes me how incredibly intuitive the Influitive AdvocateHub is when it comes to segmentation and using behavior-based or response-based targeting. When a customer lets us get to know them, whether it be their geographic location, interests or other criteria, we can drill down and connect them with content and activities that complement that information. And if, for instance, we have a drip campaign that includes a series of engagements, we can target them based on their responses. 

Q: Tell us about a memorable challenge or campaign you ran recently. 

The most meaningful challenge we designed [last year] was along the theme of Valentine’s Day, as we felt there was an opportunity to encourage a deeper sense of community and learn what mattered most to our advocates. 

We told the story of lovelocks, the tradition of writing a loved one’s name on a lock and attaching it to a public space for all to see. The challenge asked advocates what or who inspires them and gives them a sense of hope, love, and appreciation. We then curated the responses and created a fun video, which we shared back with the community. What we discovered is that from family to faith, to the mission or cause they serve, from the arts or even a friendly smile from a stranger on the street, there were so many commonalities in their responses. The most important insight we discovered is what values drive our advocates success, personally and professionally.  

Q: What is the value of fun challenges and campaigns in your program?

I think all advocate marketers would make the case for light, fun and engaging content because the participation rate tends to be highest. But more than that, it gets them into the community where they’ll see more value-drivers like webinars and social share content or beta product testing sign-ups. 

Q: How do you create moments that matter for your advocates?

I’m fortunate to have an incredible team of colleagues who also want nothing more than to see our customers succeed and celebrate their successes along the way. We do this by personal recognition beyond that of physical rewards, or if it is a physical reward, we make it memorable!

We do this in a few ways through: 

  • Exclusive programs like our annual “Top 25 Program” where we recognize our most vocal and valued advocates
  • Unique interactions like having a 1:1 conversation with our CEO
  • Creating care packages to include cozy blankets to our advocates on colder days 
  • Sending unexpected congratulatory gifts when they’ve been promoted or when they’ve added a new member to the family! 

We take this detailed approach to our communications as well. In one instance, we hired a watercolor artist to hand paint thank you notes which were sealed with an embellished wax seal. This let us elevate a brand experience and provide a unique interaction.

Q: How do you engage other parts of the organization to support Blackbaud Champions

What I found to be beneficial is to identify a few internal advocates who understand the program vision and see the tangible and intangible values that come from advocacy. It’s also important to be consistent in how you deliver results back to those stakeholders and throughout your business to demonstrate how it’s a value-driven program across the organization. 

If you’re starting or looking to start a program, I would sit down and think of all of the voice of the customer activities that you could possibly ever need within the next year or so. Then, I’d find ways to work with different departments to make sure there’s alignment for those customer needs and outputs.

Q: What are the ways you drive advocates back into the community hub to engage? 

As with the Lovelocks campaign I shared earlier, those are typically high performers because it gives advocates an opportunity to relax. But while they’re there, they see other higher business value activities. Another way to connect is by parsing out gated content. For instance, if we have a conversation or a webinar coming up about peer-to-peer fundraising, we might find a video of someone who’s already talked about the same subject to support that narrative. We’ll find toolkit items surrounded around that narrative to really help draw interest for that one particular engagement. 

Q: What’s next for Blackbaud Champions?

We’re really focused on baking the advocacy and voice of customer programming into our broader global marketing strategy with the help of our new customer experience principal manager. We’re also looking into more integrations. One thing I have appreciated about Influitive is that they’ve been continually investing back into their products. Specifically, their Advocacy Insights feature will help us share customer data from Blackbaud Champions to our Salesforce instance. Key members like our customer success team can then review what content advocates have been engaging with, get a pulse check on their sentiment and review feedback that will help them service the customer even better. 

Q: What is the future of customer advocacy?

I believe that advocacy will be the absolute capstone of the customer experience because it can improve the business as a whole. If a program isn’t in place for organizations in the future, it’s an area that will cost them time, effort and ultimately stunt growth. Why? Our customers are our best salespeople, the best source of truth about our products, and our best socializers. Having advocates share content for us on social media has been a big win for us in the past. 



Listen to the full webinar recording to hear more of Tim’s insights and to get a closer look at the Blackbaud Champions community. Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar series which happen monthly.