7 Steps to Thought Leadership for Social Impact

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Our universe is abundant with donors, clients, ambassadors, and any type of audience you want to grow.

The real competitor is Noise. Distraction.

The real challenge for us is obscurity and figuring out how to transform from a best-kept secret to a household name.

I believe the solution is thought leadership and positioning ourselves as the trusted expert we are.

Not to steal the limelight, but to reflect that light on our mission.

I’ve formulated a seven-step roadmap that can set up the foundations for our thought leadership journey.

Step 1. Find your Thought Leadership Guiding Star

The five points of that star include:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Credibility
  • Passion
  • Expertise

Your organization likely has a mission and vision, but it can be really helpful to develop your own personal mission and vision – especially a vision. 

Your vision is a striking yet simple description of the future world you are committing to make happen. When you put your vision out there, people come out of the woodwork to lean in with you. They show up to invest in your vision and make it happen together.

A vision statement looks into the distant, improved future, while a mission statement describes the present plan to achieve that vision. 

Credibility, Passion, and Expertise are important because by brainstorming what makes you credible, what you’re passionate about, and what you have specific expertise in, you can identify the golden thread of commonality between all that, which will give you clues for the niche you want to position yourself as an expert in. 

Step 2. Write Your Own Story

You are most uniquely equipped to help those in the position you once were in. Your thought leadership niche is deeply personal. It is our most vulnerable, personal stories that attract others to us, as they see themselves reflected in your journey.

Stories break the illusion that we are separate when in reality we are all one. 

Great stories define a larger ambition, involve challenges that the main character overcomes, and somehow inspires people. Psychologically, when we hear a good story, it ceases to be just words on a page. Instead, we are right there in the story with the main character.   

You can probably share the history and story of your organization; it probably comes right off your tongue. We all have a personal origin story behind us – our background story – and a story in front of us.

Our background story got us to this point and contains the inspirational pieces that can help you connect deeply with new friends as they join alongside you for the journey ahead.

Want some prompts and ideas to share your story? Check out this free resource

Step 3: Build your Campfire Circle

There’s no I in thought leader.

Although some folks think of thought leadership as a solo sport, that’s only going to get you so far. It’s important to create a personal board of directors for yourself.

This is your SQUAD. Your innermost circle.

It’s your sacred community that offers perspective and a sounding board to support the change you’re making in the world. 

People talk about “getting a seat at the table”.

Yet, the proverbial boardroom table has a limited number of seats. Those at the table still make the space and decide how they’ll let others in.

But a campfire circle can grow as big as it needs to be. There is always room. 

Step 4: Practice Radical Empathy 

By truly knowing your audience, you can develop content and speak to the issues they care most deeply about. 

It’s tempting to speak to the general public. Surely everyone could benefit from getting involved in your mission, right? 


If you try to help everyone you end up, you may end up helping no one because your message is just too broad.

Getting clear on your specific audience is key to growing engagement because you can tailor your messaging to different audiences by creating content with a specific reader, in mind.  

Who do you want to attract more of into your life and work? You probably have several audiences – donors/investors, constituents, people who refer individuals to you for care, specific subsects of the population who are deeply affected by the work you do. 

Which subsect of your audience would make the biggest difference in your biggest goal for the remainder of the year, if you attracted more of them?

For now, let’s focus on just one. Over time, you can build out strategies for all of them, or simply focus on one or two. Either way, the specificity of your message will attract more of them, help them grow trust in your message, convert them into audience members and eventually become brand ambassadors for your message. 

Step 5: Get SMART and strategic

There are so many opportunities available to us once we increase our discoverability. Not all of them lead to our vision. You’ve all probably heard of SMART or SMARTER goals so I won’t go into it deeply, but by creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound goals that we Evaluate and Readjust, we intentionally focus our energy towards the vision. Over time, the compound gains of these efforts become exponential and true magic happens.

There are many venues or channels to get your message out there.

Trying to be in all of them causes overwhelm. Your organization may be able to do it because you all have a marketing team. But for your own thought leadership, you most likely don’t – so it’s unnecessary and potentially harmful to try doing it all.

You want to saturate one, MAYBE two venues.

Consider: what channels do your top audience use? Do you prefer a written or spoken style of communicating? 

Step 6: The Case for Content 

Content of all kinds is the vehicle through which we get our thought leadership out into the world. While this easy-to-use resource can give you a ton of ideas for LinkedIn content ideas, we’re all busy.

So, my mantra is to write less, promote more.  

Here are some ways to repurpose:  

  • Take data from an old presentation and build an infographic using Canva. 
  • Check Google Analytics to see your top-performing post from your organization’s website, and update it with your own point view and findings since the original publishing date.  
  • Take longer content such an article or presentation you’ve done and split it up into a 5 day email series or challenge to nurture your audience. Each email could include a Call to Action or a link back to your website. 
  • Create a video, using the same information in old content to bring it to a new audience who prefers watching and listening to reading. 

Step 7: Become a Social Butterfly 

Social media offers a direct line of two-way communication to your target audience so it’s an important part of any thought leadership branding strategy.

But it’s not about collecting the most followers.

Thought leadership is about being known for something.

It only matters if your target audience is the one finding you, engaging with your content (which directly addresses their interests and pain points), and building trust in you over time. 

Simon Sinek said, “If you don’t know why you do what you do…then how will you get people to be loyal?

Not how. Why. The deeper reason you do what you do. It’s not about promoting a product or organization, but providing compelling content that resonates deeply with an audience that’s considering if they want to roll up their sleeves and support your efforts or not.  

Listen, it takes serious vulnerability to maximize your efforts here. Your audience is going to vibe with genuine stories that reveal your true self. Because they see themselves reflected in your journey. 

This can be scary stuff. This is the authentic you, being seen.  Start where you are and get 1% more uncomfortable with each post. 

The more we share our lived experience and how it may relate to our mission, the more we can attract individuals ready to show up and help us make the shift happen. 

“One day, you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”- Brene Brown. 


Tania is the founder of Lumos Marketing, a thought leadership consultancy for social impact entrepreneurs ready to stand out as they stand up for their mission. She coachsults with a hybrid approach – offering personal brand messaging strategy for LinkedIn with coaching to dismantle imposter syndrome. 

She also hosts the podcast The Campfire Circle which explores the idea of replacing the ‘boardroom table’ as the ultimate space of leadership with a campfire circle: a place to share our stories, build inclusive community, and spark visionary ideas. 

Want more? Connect with her on LinkedIn or download her free resource: 14 LinkedIn Prompts to Stand Out as you Stand Up For Your Mission

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