There is no question that nonprofits are full of passion and zeal. They are firmly convinced that there is a problem in society that needs to be corrected, or a service that should be provided for the common good.
But what if a smaller nonprofit has difficulty connecting with the community they wish to serve? And to connect to those community leaders who can provide valuable assistance? An inability to generate recognition is something that has to be overcome for the nonprofit organization to not only thrive, but in many cases survive.
1. Spread the word
Assuming the nonprofit has done its research and has identified a clear need that has to be addressed in the community, it is important to make the population aware that the organization exists to provide a needed service.
This means that a communication campaign has to be implemented that spreads the word effectively within the boundaries of the community to be assisted. There are a number of ways in which a nonprofit can do this without spending a lot of money on an advertising campaign. These include:
- Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Radio and television stations allow for certain amount of air time for PSAs as part of their service to the public. These are free of charge and are ordinarily no more than one minute long.
- Weekly newspapers. Organizations may try to get their story into a large daily newspaper, but it is the community newspapers that are much more important. These provide an opportunity to announce the existence of the organization and its mission to those who will be served. Their circulation can actually be in the tens of thousands.
Alternative newspapers also are a possibility. One thing that is common for both the weekly and the alternative newspapers is the need for news. They are always looking for it, and information about organizations that serve the community is usually welcome.
- Volunteers on social media. Having volunteers become followers of the nonprofit’s Facebook page for example can help spread the word, and can also post events and other information.
- Churches and civic organizations within the community. These are institutions where members of the neighborhood will congregate. They can be used for communication, particularly if a volunteer or staff member happens to be a member of the church or civic organization.
2. Reach out to community leaders
The executive director of a nonprofit I was once advising expressed distaste for politics. This included a reluctance to approach any local elected official. I told her the best thing she could do for her charity was to send a letter to every member of the City Council, inviting each one to come pay a visit. I also suggested that she follow up on those letters until one or more council members actually accepted the invitation.
The reason for the invitation and outreach is simple. Elected officials have access to the budget making process of local government. There is money available that a nonprofit organization could tap into, but each group needs an advocate.
Engaging with elected officials of either party can help secure a voice in government funding decisions. These public leaders are also willing to write letters of recommendation if they are asked. Those letters placed in the appendix of a grant proposal alert a foundation to the support a 501(c) (3) organization has from important officials in the area. It can enhance the chances of a proposal receiving funding.
3. Connect on an ongoing basis
Connecting to the community must be an ongoing activity. It is inefficient to only have one press release or announcement, and interaction with a public official must also be ongoing. Making the community aware of an organization and its mission will require ongoing communication to the various news outlets including the weekly newspapers.
Every function needs to have a story written about it, and if it is possible to post human interest stories so much the better. The executive director needs to understand that a primary function of his or her position is to get the message out. The executive director can do this or a volunteer acting as the community information person can do it.
The result of these efforts are a nonprofit organization that is recognized in the community, respected by the leaders as being a force for social improvement, and an entity that both foundations and private donors are willing to financially support.