Many new clients come to us thinking that grants are the solution to their funding needs. We spend time explaining to them what foundations are looking for and steps they need to take in order to be grant ready. One of those steps is community engagement.
This isn’t a game of luck per se as much as it is hard work and dedication to building connections within your community. Foundations are looking to support organizations that are heavily embedded in their community and have demonstrable support from numerous sources within their community.
Foundations value community engagement
Why is this important to foundations? They see organizations that have deep community connections and engagement as organizations that truly understand the needs of their community. They know the politics, the local needs, important persons to collaborate and communicate with who can help implement change and support, and they are frequently sought-after by additional organizations who wish to forge partnerships to further assist community needs.
To a foundation, this appears to be an organization that knows how to use resources wisely and effectively. It also denotes a higher potential for sustainability. Many foundations like to see their grant dollars being utilized in shared community partnerships in order to have the highest possible impact.
How to develop community engagement
Building community engagement and nurturing it takes time. The organization’s leadership must be invested in this endeavor at all times. This includes board members. One might say it is one of the most important roles of the board. Below are steps that can be taken to facilitate community engagement:
Forge relationships with other nonprofits, churches, and groups that have mutual interests. Network with them with intention and take the time to understand what they do fully to determine if a collaboration can be accomplished. If not, a friendship can begin which can facilitate future networking assistance for donors and other connections in the community that might be beneficial to further your organization’s mission.
Once you identify organizations to connect with, set up a time to meet with their leadership and for them to meet your leadership and staff. Mutual concern and mission goals can drive your potential work together. Find avenues where your individual work can complement the efforts of the other and further fulfill each other’s missions. This should be irrelevant of any potential grant collaboration. Natural connections build stronger foundations and future mutual grant efforts will be more likely to be supported.
Network in any community forums, breakfasts, organization events and open houses, community events, or galas for other organizations. Large events that support one nonprofit or the community at large, will also draw important people who can further your mission either through connections and/or through donations and major gifts. It is also possible that you may meet someone who happens to be a board member for a local foundation. This can help to encourage the foundation to take a deeper look at your organization’s grant application since meeting that board member puts a face to the name. Familiarity can help bring support.
Your communication must be well designed, strategic, consistent, and impactful. This is the way that most people in your community will learn about what your organization does and the value it provides your community. This can bring even more community awareness and support from previously unknown connections. When people understand, they want to help. They can share your communication with others in their circle who they feel will be a good fit to support your organization. This can be a fabulous way to make additional community partnerships as well.
Don’t neglect your website. As much as communication stands alone, your website is an additional communication piece that must be given sufficient attention in order to present the most accurate and current face of your organization’s efforts to those who want to learn more about your organization. This includes maintaining an active social media presence. Do not forget additional local media sources. Keep active, but keep it professional and in as many outlets as you possibly can in order to reach the largest audience effectively.
You need to live your mission. This means authenticity and clear vision. People can sense desperation a mile away. Be sure to show the benefit you provide your community not only to funders, but to the community itself. Integrity is very important. Don’t forget that your organization began to provide a solution to a need in your community. The organization does not exist to serve itself. Reputation matters.
Grant proposal impact
Grant proposals are significantly stronger when they can demonstrate significant community support and engagement. Additionally, these partnerships will ultimately make your organization more effective, which is something that every funder is looking to see in those they provide grant awards to. They are looking to fund the largest impact with funds utilized wisely. This also opens your organization up to shared grant applications, sub-awards, and the capacity to share resources. Knowing that you aren’t alone in your journey demonstrates to funders that you have a stronger capacity for sustainability and that their funding will go toward the further development of something that is clearly making an impact.