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Visibility and relationships: Effective fundraising for small nonprofits

People having a conversation and building relationships.

Asking grantmakers for funding can be an intimidating process, especially for small or lesser-known nonprofits. Grassroots organizations provide vital services to local communities, yet they struggle to compete for grants against large national nonprofits that can leverage robust development teams, considerable fundraising experience, and established relationships with grantmakers.  

For small or lesser-known nonprofits to fundraise successfully, they need a strategy focused on increasing public visibility and cultivating long-term and diversified funder relationships. Here are some steps to get started. 

Raise your visibility online and beyond 

Effective fundraising requires more than providing meaningful programming and presenting a well-written grant proposal. You need to ensure that funders can find you online and learn about your work. Many small nonprofits find the cost of maintaining a robust website prohibitive, but you can create a Candid profile for free. Funders look to Candid profiles to guide their giving decisions. And with a Candid profile, you benefit from increased visibility across the sector, as we push this data out to partner platforms including Meta, Network for Good, and donor-advised funds.  

Next, use your social media channels to make stronger connections with current and potential funders. Share details about your work and interact with funders’ social media posts. Reposting content from accounts related to your issue area and adding your expert commentary can help you build legitimacy and reach a wider audience. The more you communicate relevant information, the more likely you will be seen as a thought partner and player in the space. Platforms such as LinkedIn can also help you find and contact decision makers at foundations through your existing connections.  See who you’re connected to at a prospective foundation using Foundation Directory’s LinkedIn integration. When using Foundation Directory, the LinkedIn icon will appear next to staff you are connected to; click on the LinkedIn icon to open their profile.

In addition to raising your organization’s visibility online, use your board to boost your presence and forge strong relationships within your community. When recruiting board members, think about how you can maximize your organization’s connections offline. Committed board members with diverse backgrounds can bring wide-ranging personal and professional networks and help build and expand connections for the organization.  

Initiate conversations to create connections 

Effective fundraising is built on funder relationships, which are created by engaging in meaningful conversations about the work your organization does. Start by getting to know your organization’s work intimately. Shadow your program team or read testimonials from the people your programs serve, so you can speak knowledgeably and passionately about their work. Short anecdotes about your organization’s successes and challenges can help the potential funder connect with your work on a personal level. 

To cultivate lasting connections, prepare an engaging and compelling pitch about both your organization generally and the initiative for which you’re seeking funding. Involve all members of your team in finetuning your pitch. Often, new and creative ways of explaining your nonprofit’s programming and its relevance to the community will be surfaced in these conversations. 

Once you have your elevator pitch written down, practice it often. Having a much-practiced pitch at the ready will enable you to communicate with purpose, clarity, and confidence. In turn, this will help the potential funder easily understand how you serve the community. Aim to make your pitch a dialogue rather than a monologue by being interactive and open to questions about your work.  

With a well-informed, rehearsed pitch, you’re ready to start talking to potential funders. The easiest way to start the conversation as a small nonprofit is to attend networking events in your community. Consider joining an affinity group to collaborate with other fundraisers. Take the opportunity these convenings offer to partner on programs with peers at larger, more established nonprofits; help refine your fundraising strategy; and connect with funders. 

Secure grants and diversify

Every fundraiser inevitably experiences the disappointment of having a funder decline their grant application, but you can make declinations part of the relationship-building process. Leverage any feedback funders provide in their rejections and address specific areas for improvement. If your funding areas align, don’t be discouraged. Perhaps your budget proposal wasn’t detailed enough or there were simply too many applicants. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask for a meeting to continue the conversation, seek an introduction to another funder, and/or explore the possibility of resubmitting. 

And when you’ve successfully obtained a grant, the work of building a meaningful relationship doesn’t end there. Continually involve funders as thought partners and create opportunities to demonstrate your impact in the community. That way, they will be invested in your success and will be likely to support you annually.  

Finally, be sure to cultivate ongoing relationships with multiple funders across interests and issue areas related to your work. Relationships have peaks and valleys, and maintaining those connections with various funders on a continuous basis will allow for stability if a large grant isn’t renewed. 

Relationship building takes time, patience, and perspective. Competing for grants is competitive, but implementing an effective fundraising strategy focused on raising your nonprofit’s visibility, telling a compelling story, and cultivating and diversifying funder relationships can help put your small nonprofit on a path to growth.  

Photo credit: SolStock via Getty Images

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