Using Social Media to Research and Connect with Grant Funders – Fad or Best Practice?

Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed my 2013 professional development goals would involve increasing the integration of social media into my business. Nor would I have believed that I would be seeking to increase my team and my clients’ understanding of how to connect with current and potential grant funders via social media.

I would have scoffed at the idea that my 2014 goals would have an even heavier emphasis on the integration of social media into our roles as grant professionals. However, here I sit, now a converted believer that the role of social media in the grant profession is not going to be a short lived fad but rather become a tool for achieving best practices for communication and knowledge sharing.

Potential Roles

Social media has many potential roles within a grant professional’s work:

  • As a source of personal and professional development through interactions with colleagues via weekly Twitter chats such as #grantchat and #fundchat;
  • As a source of funding opportunity research as private funders, government agencies, nonprofit aggregate news sources, and nonprofit consultants post new funding opportunities on various social media channels; and,
  • As a source for funder research through reviews of articles, reports, and grantee information funders post on their own social media channels.

According to Glass Pockets (http://www.glasspockets.org, Twitter: @glasspockets), a service of The Foundation Center, 45 percent of foundations are now using social media. As you can see on the Foundation Directory Online records new social media tab (or other funder research databases), of those foundations who have ventured into social media, 65 percent of them are using Facebook and 40 percent are using Twitter.

I am not encouraging you to completely change your grant funder research or relationship development strategies because of the growing number of foundations that are active in social media. Rather, I am encouraging you to consider these social media channels as additional tools and to determine how you might set aside time to actively and effectively utilize these tools.

Beneficial Uses

I can hear your questions already.

“So how do you actually use social media in your grantor research process?”

First, let me explain that I see grant research as a jigsaw puzzle. Just like puzzle pieces, there are numerous sources of data and information available about all funders. Your job during the research phase is multi-faceted. First, you must gather as many pieces as possible. Then, you will need to put as much of the puzzle together before ever reaching out to the potential funder. Only after you have a clear picture of how your program’s need matches funders’ interest will you be ready to establish a dialogue and relationship with them. Remember, it is important that you begin your relationship building efforts prior to submitting your first grant application.

Social media provides you with opportunities to gain a more complete picture of your potential funder. Foundations, government agencies, and other funding sources frequently share articles and research reports they find interesting and that relate to their mission through social media. Also, they often share and promote their current grantees. Paying attention to this information will provide you with a more complete picture of how a funder’s formal priorities and guidelines relate to their grant awards and daily operations.

“Fair enough, but how do you develop relationships with potential grantors through social media?”

Developing a relationship with a potential grantor through social media is a different opportunity to establish connections with a funder than the traditional, phone, email, and in-person contacts. The value of those more traditional methods are not being diminished or replaced by the ability to connect and interact with funders through social media. Rather, it is providing an opportunity for further engagement, and often a unique first chance for interaction prior to successfully connecting via traditional methods. I believe the interaction with your current grant funders on social media is becoming a best practice.

So, how can you best interact and engage with your current funders on social media? The following are some tips my team, my clients, and I have successfully used. I encourage you to try:

  • Following your funders on Twitter;
  • Liking your funders on Facebook;
  • Publicizing your new grant awards from a particular funder on your social media and correctly embedding their Facebook link or using their Twitter handle within your promotion of the grant award;
  • Sharing/liking/retweeting the studies and information shared by your funders;
  • Authentically commenting on the studies, information, and other information shared by your funders; and,
  • Posting something directly to a funder when you come across information that you feel would be of great interest/value to them.

If you are still unsure about the value or role of social media in your work as a grant professional, I encourage you to look at the work of Glass Pockets to learn more. Or, you could check out the weekly Twitter chats #grantchat and #fundchat. Both of these chat about all things grant/fundraising related.

Diane Leonard

About the Contributor: Diane Leonard

Diane H. Leonard, GPC is an experienced and highly respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. Clients she serves include health care providers, advocacy organizations, social services agencies, elementary and secondary schools, and municipal corporations. In addition, Diane is an in-demand speaker on the topics of grant writing and grants management and regularly provides her expertise to audiences ranging from national conferences to boards of directors for small nonprofit entities.

Diane founded DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC in 2006 and has secured tens of millions of dollars in competitive grant funds for its clients from the federal government, state and local governments, and private foundations.

Diane has served previously as a Program Officer for a statewide public foundation. She is a member of the Grantwriting Professionals Association and the American Grant Writer’s Association. Diane is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations.

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One thought on “Using Social Media to Research and Connect with Grant Funders – Fad or Best Practice?

  1. Hi Diane!

    Great post and advice, as always. I couldn’t agree with you more: social media is another tool in our 21st century grant seeking (or fundraising) toolbox. We should use it as on of many cues to action–times when we aren’t making an ask–to engage with potential supporters. A study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that in 2012 just 16% of nonprofits followed their funders on Facebook or Twitter. Why not turn that to our competitive advantage?

    Best,

    Heather Stombaugh, GPC
    JustWrite Solutions

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