Jeffrey Helton, AmeriCorps VISTA in Berea, here to conclude my epic trilogy on funding opportunities. (Part I can be found here, Part II here.) It’s my hope that these final thoughts—thoughts on topics ranging from branding to “Donate Now” buttons—will help you unify your approach to seeking funding.
There’s more to identifying funding opportunities than putting on a safari hat, hopping into a jeep, and saying, “Hey! There’s a funding opportunity! She and her cubs are really devouring that urgent social issue.” (Sorry, all great trilogies need a little humor. Luckily for me, “a little humor” is just barely within the scope of my talents!)
The never-ending search for funds requires that you know what would be a good fit for your organization. You don’t want to approach funding in a scattershot way, carelessly submitting proposals to every foundation only barely relevant to your organization’s goals. Although it might feel like you’re increasing your chances of receiving money, this isn’t the smartest use of your time. In fact, you’ll probably receive less than you would have if you had crafted two or three thoughtful proposals for well-selected foundations.
So how do you choose? Every foundation has a different image and approach. One foundation might like gambling on organizations with unconventional missions—at least as long as they get to micro-manage your use of the money. Another foundation might seem like a distant benefactor, but when trouble arises, they respect your organization and view it as a peer. Like people, foundations have personalities, and you’re not going to get along with all of them. Unless you’re a modern Mr. Rogers.
Another word for this abstract understanding of “personality” is a brand. Branding can help you better understand your organization and its mission—and understand what foundations might be open to funding your organization. Of course, to some organizations, nonprofits especially, branding might seem useless. Maybe they’re serving a very particular population in a small city and don’t see why it’s necessary to download Photoshop and bother with logos and color schemes. Or maybe a nonprofit thinks that branding is evil because their main examples of brands include enormous profit-seeking ventures like Coca Cola.
But branding goes beyond a handsome logo or a quest for revenue. An organization’s brand is all about standing out in the minds of the intended audience. Your brand tells people who you are, what you care about, and what you’re going to offer to the world.
For example, Grow Appalachia’s brand, if you could transform it into a sentence, might look roughly like this:
Grow Appalachia empowers Appalachian families to grow as much of their own food as possible.
This message is more or less retained throughout all of Grow Appalachia’s promotional materials. We love to share pictures of families who have been affected by our work. We use a color palette full of soothing pastel greens and wooden browns, colors matching our agricultural mission. Our fonts have an inviting simplicity, often lacking serifs—those conceited little wings and arms that you see on fonts like Times New Roman. The figures in our logo are holding hands, communicating our emphasis on community and family. The spaces between the figures’ arms form hearts, another symbol of cooperation. Two of the figures are clutching a carrot as if they’d just plucked it from the earth, reminding the viewer that our participating families now have the power to do this work on their own. They are both the producers and the consumers. (All of this is, of course, just my interpretation of our brand and how our design choices reinforce that brand, but hopefully you see the levels and layers to a brand.)
If your organization takes a step back to examine its brand, it might find that not everyone agrees on what your organization is all about—even within the organization! Therefore, establishing a strong organizational brand will ensure that everyone is on the same page, making the organization more effective, unified, and recognizable. Remember to keep it simple. Try to convert the brand into a snappy, short sentence: (Our organization) (verb) in order to (ultimate goal).
All of this will be so important when a foundation is considering a variety of proposals, and your organization stands out above the others—at least if you’ve only submitted to foundations that share values with your organization.
In one way, social media is just a way to extend your branding, maintaining how other folks perceive your organization. Now I don’t want to dwell too much on that aspect of social media—which is a topic with enough depth to warrant its own blog series—so I’ll just encourage you to make sure that what you post reflects your brand. I’ll now turn to social media’s relevance for funding opportunities.
Beyond the daily posts and status updates, social media pages like Facebook or Twitter can also provide you with a static “About” page or section where you can save information on your organization’s mission, its history, its values, etc. In other words, social media gives you a platform where foundations and other prospective donors can learn more about your brand. (One interesting fact about foundations is that while most foundations don’t run websites, many of them are migrating to Facebook like tech-savvy, adolescent birds. Don’t get left behind!)
Your social media pages should also highlight your organization’s developments and accomplishments. After all, if someone is going to dedicate money to your cause, they want to know that you’ll use that money in a way that will also advance their own values. You might even want to hold contests for donors or showcase past donors in status updates. The possibilities, while not endless, certainly are plentiful.
In my first blog in this series, I discussed how a nonprofit could incorporate a “Donate Now” button right into their Facebook page, and Marcus Plumlee, my fellow VISTA, thought it was a topic worth returning to. The process is actually quite simple. All you have to do is fill out this form, and Facebook does the rest. Once your nonprofit has been approved, the button will be right at the top of your page, urging potential donors to take action as they’re browsing. They can even share their donation activity with friends—who might just follow suit, once they stop laughing at that one cat picture.
And if you need a “Donate Now” button beyond your Facebook page, sites like JustGive.org can provide you with a button that you can include in your newsletters, blog posts, emails, and websites!
Other Tips and Tricks
- Once someone has agreed to a small commitment, that person is more likely to agree to a larger commitment. (In Psychology, this is known as the foot-in-the-door phenomenon.) For nonprofits, this means that recruiting volunteers can ultimately be a great way to find donors, too.
- Your website should have a “Giving” page—or something similar. This is yet another page where you can display your “Donate Now” button, recruit volunteers, and showcase photos and testimonials from your donors.
- Online donors are less likely to give again than in-person or mail donors. To offset this, be sure to send them personalized thank-you emails. And if someone donates a substantial sum, show them your appreciation through the ancient art of handwritten letters.
- Curate a list of funding sources. Even when you become aware of a funding opportunity after the submission deadline, make note of it. Many opportunities happen in cycles, so you can prepare yourself for next year’s deadline.
- If it has 501(c)(3) status, sign your organization up for Google for Nonprofits. This Google effort provides resources to help nonprofits cultivate donors and maximize their productivity. One of these resources is Google Grants, which attracts more visitors to your webpages by providing you with up to $329 a day in Google keyword advertising. Over the course of a year, that adds up to a sizable sum.
Speaking of sizable sums, there’s probably a million other things to say about finding funding—half of which would consist of frustrated complaints laced with unpleasant language. As for the other half, I’ve only started scratching the surface. Of course, you will discover much about the funding process on your own, too, now that you’ve have the basic knowledge to get out there and start searching. If you have any funding tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Or if you want to suggest topics for my future blog posts, that’d be great, too.
As they say in the cartoons, that’s all folks!