As a nonprofit pro, you’re probably interested in making sure that your grants, social media, and marketing strategies are as effective as possible. Luckily, there’s one secret to getting all of them right. Mastering this one thing will align your marketing, funding, and social strategies and have them working together like well-oiled machinery.
So what’s the secret? Relationships.
For those of you who may be Lord of the Rings fans, think of it this way: relationships are like the one ring. The one ring to rule them all.
You probably expect to hear that relationships are paramount when working with donors or sponsors. But when you talk about things like grant writing, social media, or digital marketing you’re probably envisioning someone sitting behind a computer screen, typing away all alone, right?
Well, that’s true. Strategizing and putting together social posts or grant narratives does often mean someone is sitting at a desk typing these things up. But it doesn’t mean that’s all they’re doing. Or at least, it shouldn’t be if they want it to work.
We are social animals.
Since the dawn of human civilization, we have chosen to live in groups. Part of that choice is because it makes survival simpler, but it’s also because we are social creatures that thrive on connection with others. We live better lives when in community.
Although the communities we live in today are far different than they were even a few decades ago, our need for relationships is still intact. Take social media as an example. People spend a ton of time with their noses stuck in their smartphones and this is often seen as an isolating influence. But a lot of that time is spent on social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and others.
No, it’s not face-to-face communication. But it IS communication and connection – just in a different format that’s evolved to fit the faster pace of today’s world and the fact that our family and friends are often spread across far distances, making face-to-face visits infrequent or difficult.
This example is just meant to highlight that the foundation of things like social media (and grant writing and marketing, too) are still built upon connection and relationships. This means that even those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool introverts (yep, that’s me) still need to place special emphasis on how we communicate with and relate to others if we want our nonprofit strategies to work for us.
With this in mind, let’s get into the nitty gritty. How exactly do you use the power of relationships to supercharge your nonprofit’s approach to social media, digital marketing, and grant writing? Here’s how:
Step 1: Don’t just post
This may surprise you, but just posting to social media is not going to be enough. Nope, you actually need to start conversations with your audience. Ask them questions, draw them into conversation, and make sure you reply to each and every comment they leave for you. The next few tips build on this important concept, too.
Step 2: Go where they go
Don’t just wait for your audience to leave comments on your nonprofit’s posts or page, either. Where do they hang out online? There are groups and pages on every social platform where your audience is already hanging out and consuming content. If you’re a symphony orchestra, look for pages or groups that classical music lovers would likely follow. Then make sure you are there, too – commenting, sharing, and helping others (just make sure you don’t violate any group rules). This will allow people to get to know you and you can help direct them back to your nonprofit’s page and/or website.
Step 3: Ask them to share
On almost every social platform, the best way to get widespread coverage of your content (and this your nonprofit’s mission and programs) is to get others to share it. To do that, make sure you are creating interesting, valuable content. When you use steps 1 & 2 above to build relationships with others who are aligned with your mission, then they will naturally want to share the great stuff you’re posting. This increases your reach and helps make sure that your time spent on social media is not wasted.
Step 1: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
On average, a person has to see or hear something 7 times before they will act on it. Let’s look at an example: If you’re using digital marketing to try to sell memberships for your nonprofit, you’re going to have to ask people to buy their membership an average of 7 times before they actually do it.
With this in mind, if you only send out one appeal on one platform you’re unlikely to get great results. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put out the call to action several times across multiple platforms that you know your audience likes (examples might include Google, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, emails, ads on your local newspaper’s website, a popup on your nonprofit’s website, text marketing, etc.).
This ties into the theory of relationships because someone can’t know you or have a relationship with you until they’ve met you, right? Often, these digital calls to action can be the first time a patron is introduced to your nonprofit. Or it may be the second or third time they’ve seen something related to your nonprofit and now they are sufficiently curious to go check out your website, social media, and start building that relationship further. When creating messaging and visuals for digital marketing it can be really helpful to remember that this will be the first impression for many who see them. Make sure that first impression is a good one!
Step 2: Give more than you get
There’s an old quote from Zig Ziglar that goes “You can have everything you want in life if you will just help enough people get what they want.” Not only do I love that quote and think it’s 100% true, but I think it specifically applies to digital marketing. When you engage in digital marketing you may be putting out ads on platforms like Google or Facebook, guest posting on relevant blogs, writing articles, engaging in email marketing, or a whole host of other strategies.
But people in the online space are inundated with marketing, emails, and messages all day long, right? How do you get someone’s attention in such a saturated space? How do you get them to open your email instead of hitting the delete button? How do you get them to click on your ad or read your blog post?
Answer: by giving them something valuable that they want or need.
This could be a free tool or guide, a step-by-step tutorial on how to do something important, key insights that will help them overcome an issue or get something they want, discounts, etc. Know your audience well and then get creative in offering them things they’ll love. This will help build trust and rapport and ensure that your digital marketing messages get seen/read as well help to build the kind of long-term relationship that leads to more engagement all around from donors and patrons.
Step 1: Make the call
The process of writing a grant doesn’t actually start with writing. Nope, it starts with a phone call. Once you’ve identified a likely funding prospect your first priority should be building a relationship with that funder.
Give them a call, introduce yourself and what your organization does, and get a sense of their interest in receiving a proposal from you. Make clear that you are looking for mutually beneficial partnerships with funders rather than just a check.
If they are open to receiving a proposal, then you can start writing. But make sure that along the way you continue to follow up with them about any questions you may have, needed clarifications, or even just a quick email to thank them for their time. Remember, you’re building a relationship and trying to stay top-of-mind with them so that when your proposal is submitted you are in the best position to receive a grant and create a long-term funding relationship.
Step 2: Let them know it’s been submitted
Once you’ve submitted your proposal, follow up with a call or email to your contact to let them know it’s been submitted and that you are available if they have any questions or need additional materials. This is common courtesy, but it also keeps you in the forefront of their mind and ensures that they see you as someone who would be great to work with if funded.
Step 3: Don’t stop there
After it’s been submitted and after you’ve followed up to let them know, your work is not finished! Rather, you have 2 possible roads to follow:
If they fund your request, you should follow up immediately with a phone call to thank them. Also send a handwritten letter or thank you card signed by you and the organization’s leadership. Also make sure that you are following any recognition requirements outlined in the grant agreement. If there weren’t any, you could consider doing any or all of the following to thank your funder and continue building a positive relationship with them:
- Send out a press release about the grant to local news outlets (just be sure to name the funder and thank them in the release)
- Put a thank you with the funder’s logo and a link to their website on your website
- Post a thank you on all of your org’s social media accounts
- If relevant, create signage to put up at your facility or events
- Make sure they are thanked in any season brochures, programs, annual reports, or publications relating to the program or project they funded
If you did not receive funding for your request, don’t lose heart. Often a ‘no’ can be turned into a ‘yes’ over time. To determine whether that’s a possibility, your first course of action should be to follow up with your contact at the funding organization and ask them for feedback on your proposal and information on why it was denied.
If they like your organization and its work, then it could be that they just had too many requests and couldn’t fund them all this round. Or it could be that your proposal needs a few tweaks in order to be competitive. Either way, ask if you can apply for the next round and then use their feedback to make your next proposal a slam dunk. In between now and your next submission, continue building the relationship with periodic calls or emails to check in, share news about your organization’s achievements, or ask relevant questions.
THE FINAL TAKEAWAY
In a world where so many of us sit anonymously behind computer screens both for work and in our leisure time, it’s easy to feel that the power of connections between us and those around us is dwindling. But nothing could be further from the truth. In all of your work, look for ways to build relationships and use them to create better outcomes for your nonprofit, your community, and the cause you serve. This is an effective approach that improves our work, our communities, and ultimately ourselves.