My friend and colleague, Joanne Oppelt MHA shares several tips for gaining and growing community support for your nonprofit. Read it all!

The questions I hear most often from the nonprofit professionals I encounter are, “How do I increase community support for my cause?” and, “Where do I find people to support my agency?”  The answers, strangely enough, are not based on fundraising theory. Rather, they are based on marketing theory and adapted for fundraising. Because garnering community support for your cause, including financial support for your cause, is not about implementing more fundraising activities. It’s about improving your messaging, raising visibility among targeted groups, and making it easy for people to join you in your efforts.

Whenever you are looking to broaden community support and find new supporters, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do our efforts improve our agency’s brand?
  • Is our agency visible to our potential supporters?
  • How inviting is the experience to join us?

Improve Your Brand

Your nonprofit’s brand, roughly speaking, is its public reputation for how well it lives up to its promises. A strong brand means your nonprofit is widely known to make a positive impact on the issues it tackles. In other words, it demonstrates a strong commitment to mission.

Building your brand starts with communicating it. And your nonprofit’s brand is conveyed through every symbol, word, and action associated with the organization. That includes internal and external communications and materials. You want your internal people to all be on the same page so they all impart the same distinctive message to the public. And you want to share a singular powerful message to your external audiences so they know exactly who nonprofit is and there is no confusion over what it stands for. That means your logo, font, website, photography, public speeches, social media posts, brochures, reports, volunteer trainings, employee manuals – everything you do and say – is planned, coordinated, and imbedded with the same language, concepts, and symbols. I talked about the importance of messaging in my article Influencing the Conversation About You.

And it means choosing and designing fundraising activities that promote the message you are trying to communicate. Your brand is unique to you. Therefore, think about the kinds of activities that will support your mission and convey your messages. Don’t just copy someone else. Build your brand. Strengthen your reputation in the community. You will be better off for it in the long term. Because strong brands are attractive to potential supporters. And community support is what you’re looking for.

Gain Visibility Among Potential Supporters

When nonprofits talk about their efforts to gain visibility, most of them are thinking in terms of getting more media coverage, doing some advertising, or redesigning their website. While press releases, TV spots, radio interviews, flyers in stores, and logos on buses do raise a nonprofit’s visibility, it’s general visibility that they’re raising. And while that’s all well and good, and you do need some of it, those are not the most effective methods to raise strong support for your cause. Because you’re not trying to reach everyone. You’re trying to reach those people that have a penchant for what you do.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Say you want to fish for flounder. You could go out with a boat, case a wide net, and get a lot of fish, a few of which are flounder. Or, you could go where flounder tend to congregate, cast a small yet, get fewer fish but a lot of which are flounder. In the first scenario you expend a lot of resources for very few of what you want. In the second scenario, you don’t end up with a lot of fish but a lot more of the kind you want.

That’s one of things marketing is about. Gaining visibility among a specific target group. Going where they are. Searching them out. Using the least amount of resources for the most amount of gain. And, with the extremely limited amount of resources most nonprofits operate with, you want to use those resources to get as much value as you can. The answer is to target specific the people or groups who will be most passionate about your mission. If you need to start identifying target groups, start with those organizations who have something in common with your nonprofit be it similar goals, complementary goals, similar needs, or similar markets, we talked about in Where to Go to Find Community Support.

Who are your nonprofit’s target groups? Who are your most ardent supporters? What are their characteristics? What do they read? What groups are they part of? How do they communicate with one another? How do they spend their leisure time? What do they spend their money? What is important to them? What are their values?

These are the types of question you need to be asking your supporters. The answers to these questions will tell you where to find and how to communicate about what to people interested in supporting you. You need to know you supporters, inside and out. Start where you are with what you have. From there branch out. And grow your base. You’re don’t want to spend money looking for just anyone to support you. You are looking to expend resources so they generate the most support as possible. You need to target your efforts.

Invite People In

It’s not enough to be visible to potential supporters. You have ask them to join you in your cause. And you have to ask them directly, clearly, and specifically. You want to leave no question as to what you want them to do. No, you’re not being pushy. You’re being forthright and honest. People appreciate that.

That means always have some sort of call to action in your communications. Tell people how they can best help you. Give them direction. Be the leader and ask them to follow. Donate now. Visit your state representative. Register now. Save my seat. Tell me your opinion. Volunteer. Vote. Whatever you’re doing, make it clear you how you want other people to join you.

And make it easy for them to do so. How easy is it for people to get involved with you? What are the obstacles? How can you remove them? Do your processes work for everyone in your target group, including people who are different than you? Is your language offensive in any way? Are your images diverse? Make getting involved with you as easy and inviting as you can.

Which means you need periodic feedback from people regarding their experience with you. You won’t know unless you ask. Don’t’ just assume you know. Even if results are what you expected, after the survey you have objective evidence that what you say is true. That the community thinks what you think. That you really are inviting and easy to deal with. Which can help you attract more potential supporters. Which is what your goal is. For more on how to create donor communications that invite and engage, read Creating Donor Communications that Work.

Wrapping It Up

To gain the community support you desire, including financial support, adapt some of the concepts from the field of marketing. Start by creating and conveying strong, singular messages, improving your unique brand.  Direct monies where they will reach people with a propensity toward your cause, not just anybody, getting the most out of your scarce resources. Know your supporters inside and out so that you can invite others who have the same values to join you in ways they understand and will respond too. Then ask people to do what you want them to do. Ask directly, clearly, and specifically. Make sure it is easy and inviting for people to interact with you. Regularly ask for feedback on your supporters’ experiences. Take these marketing concepts and use them to ask for support, financial and otherwise. And you will find the community backing you crave.

Joanne Oppelt, MHA, Author, Trainer, Consultant, and Growth Coach

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