How to show your funders some love -- social-media style

When a corporation funds your nonprofit, saying "thank you" requires more than sending an acknowledgement letter and grant reports.

As a fundraiser, you need to create content that is about the grant’s impact on your nonprofit programs, and your nonprofit’s appreciation for the funding.

This “impact and appreciation” content should be in a format that can be easily forwarded and shared.

Using social media to thank corporate funders is key because corporate foundations face internal pressure to show their value.

While the typical family foundation was established with the purpose of giving money away, a corporate giving program may be viewed as a revenue drain by other parts of the corporation.

This perception puts constant demand on a corporate giving program to justify its existence to other divisions of the company.

As a nonprofit fundraiser, you can help corporate giving officers build enthusiasm about the company's philanthropic strategy.

A corporate giving officer can talk all day to her bosses about the value of the grants they make, but the bosses will be more likely to respond to recognition that comes from outside the company, via social media channels.

Here’s how to use social media to thank corporate funders.

  • Your nonprofit's blog and email updates: If your nonprofit actively blogs or sends emails to its supporters and fans, start your thank-you messages here. Create a blog post about the grant that highlights the grant's impact on your mission. (The point isn't to brag that you got a grant, but rather to show how the grant is making a difference.) If you have the technology, include in the post a video of the grant-funded project in action (more on video in the point below). Include an announcement of the grant in your next email update, linking to the post. Going forward, you can use the blog post as a "landing page" for all other social media references to the grant.
  • Video: Online videos don't have to be incredibly polished or scripted to be effective. I love videos that feature the beneficiaries of a grant saying thank you directly to donors. Washtenaw Community College Foundation in Michigan includes videos of students who received scholarships saying "thank you" in the Foundation's emails to donors -- wouldn't you want to continue giving to the scholarship fund after watching these students share their sincere thanks? Check out the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University's School of Business 10 Tips for Doing Video for Social Media -- among the ideas shared are to post your videos to YouTube for Nonprofits, and to title and caption your videos.
  • Facebook: Craft a Facebook post for your nonprofit’s Facebook page that directly thanks the corporation by name, and ideally, includes a hyperlink to the company’s Facebook page. Be sure to use a photo or infographic and go light on the text. Try to phrase the post in a way that will encourage your friends to “like” it. Then, ask your staff and supporters to share the post on their own timelines (if appropriate). Once this is done, let your contacts at the company know about the Facebook posting. They may choose to share it on their page, or just forward the item to their colleagues.
  • Twitter: Your Tweet needs to mention the corporation by name (using their Twitter handle/username if they have one) and say something intriguing about the grant – in 140 characters. For example, if your nonprofit got a grant from the Macy’s Foundation for a women’s shelter in New York, your Tweet could start out, “Thanking @Macys for keeping 135 NYC women safe this holiday season…” Include a shortened link to a blog post or other landing page that provides more detail about the grant’s impact on your nonprofit. Photos and video are always good to include on that page! Email your supporters who are active on Twitter to ask them to retweet the Tweet, and, as with Facebook, let your contacts at the company know about the Tweet.
  • Voicemail: The phone is the original social media tool! Voicemail left on a corporate foundation officer’s phone after hours can be “forwardable content” that is just as valuable as a Facebook post or a Tweet. At a training I attended, a corporate program officer told the audience that one of her grantees serves low-income, vulnerable kids. The grantee made a couple of thank you phone calls to the program officer's phone line, having the children themselves leave brief messages of thanks. She said it was awesome because she was able to forward the voicemails all over her company and staff thought the messages were adorable. She liked how the kids got to practice making a professional phone call, which is a good life skill. (Personally, I’d be leery of doing anything like this, but it sounds like the grantee handled it well and the program officer was thrilled.)

The bottom line is that corporate philanthropy staffers need to sell the corporate giving program to their peers and higher-ups, especially if corporate giving is not part of the company’s overall marketing budget.

They have to make the case that their past grants were worth making, and their future grants will be money well spent.

The nuggets of digital information that you share can be forwarded and otherwise disseminated across the company.

This can make it easier for corporate giving officers to tell the story of how their grants are making a difference in the community.

It can also pave the way for future funding for your nonprofit!

Three steps to winning more grants

Grants are not a game of chance -- but, even so, you can improve the odds of being funded if you play by these rules!

1) Have a conversation with the funder prior to developing your proposal

It can be tempting to jump into the deep end of writing a proposal without talking to the funder first. But even if you think that you understand the guidelines and that your project is likely to be a good fit, it always helps to have a thoughtful and thorough conversation with the funder before doing the time-consuming work of proposal writing.

Except in the rare cases when a funder's guidelines explicitly discourage grantseekers from contacting them, most private foundations and grant-making public agencies are open to hearing from potential applicants. Some even hold public information sessions to explain their RFPs or new initiatives. You can expect funders to have a system in place to answer potential grantees' questions, especially if they have professional staff.

Be sure to take the following steps prior to contacting the funder:

  • Read the grant guidelines carefully and highlight anything that is unclear.
  • Research the funder's prior giving history to determine patterns in grantmaking and how your organization might complement their docket.
  • Confer with your program staff to determine which projects that meet the guidelines are of highest priority to pitch.
  • Write a set of talking points/questions, to be followed as you talk to the funder. This will ensure that you cover all the bases and bring good information back to your colleagues.

2) Document that your nonprofit's board provides strong support -- including, ideally, 100% board giving.

For valuable insight into how foundation leaders think, check out this ten-minute video from Movie Mondays featuring Craig Stewart, the president of the Apex/Bruce & Jolene McCaw Family Foundation.

As Stewart explains, grantmakers look for evidence that a nonprofit's board is truly committed to the organization.

Before a foundation will be willing to write a check to a nonprofit, the foundation typically wants to see that the board members themselves are also writing checks. They want to know that each board member prioritizes this particular nonprofit above others.

As a grant proposal writer, you don't necessarily have much control over how the board interacts with the nonprofit's Executive Director and Development Director -- and, indeed, whether 100% of the board does give. But you can create proposal documents that demonstrate your board's commitment to the organization, presenting this information in the best possible light (while still being accurate).

One piece of paper that can make or break your grant proposal is the board giving statement.

Often, grant proposal guidelines require you to state what percentage of the board has made a financial contribution in the current or prior fiscal year. Even if the foundation doesn't ask for this information, it can be advisable to include it, either in the section of the proposal that provides background information about your nonprofit or in a stand-alone one-page document.

If your organization has a Development Director or individual gifts staffer, you'll want to work with this person to write the board giving statement. No board is perfect, and if you find that your board falls short on the 100% board giving ideal, you should briefly explain extenuating circumstances as seems appropriate.

Along with the  basic financial information documenting board members' direct cash donations to the organization, you may want to include supplemental detail that helps to tell the full story of board commitment. You can include quotes from board members about why they value serving on your board, and data on how board members have advanced the nonprofit in recent years (such as number of private fundraising events hosted by board members).

3) Follow up assiduously after you submit the proposal

Your job isn't done when you hit "submit" on the online application or when you put the proposal in the mailbox. Tenacious follow-up can get you funded. 

While being respectful of a program officer's time and being tuned into social cues, you can still persistently track the progress of your proposal and be ready to address any issues that come up along the way from the funder's receipt of the proposal to its ultimate funding decision.

Many successful grant professionals have the habit of contacting the funder to confirm that they received the proposal and ask if there were any initial questions about the project. You can do this follow-up about a week after submitting the proposal.

Through this conversation, you might be able to find out the date of the board meeting at which the proposal will be considered.  Depending on your rapport with the program officer, you can then plan to follow up shortly after this board meeting to ask about the status of the application.

If the application was funded, your job is to say thank you! But if it was not funded, then you can find out what went wrong and if it can be fixed.

Among the reasons that a proposal is turned down for funding are:

  • The funder simply didn't have enough money to support all eligible projects. Some private foundations have more money to distribute early in the fiscal year, so a program officer might advise you to re-submit the proposal for the first board meeting of the next year.
  • Your proposal didn't comply with guidelines or didn't make a compelling case for funding. If this is the case for you, honestly assess whether these issues can be addressed in order to re-submit a more competitive version of your proposal. In the best scenario, the program officer will tell you candidly if it will be possible to modify the proposal to be a better fit for the foundation.
  • Program staff or trustees liked the overall application, but didn't want to support one part of the project. In some cases, a foundation will turn down a proposal because certain budget line items (anything from staff training to software upgrades) raised a red flag. Simply removing these line items from the budget and project plan can get your proposal approved in a future funding round.