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Joanne Oppelt

About Joanne

Fundraising Success: Meet Community Needs (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency. In this second installment, I discuss how vital it is to understand that your organization's mission is not about your organization, but about meeting community needs.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 2 of a six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency, contributed to the CharityChannel professional community by Joanne Oppelt. Joanne is the author of several popular books on the subject, published by CharityChannel Press. Please scroll down to see Joanne's bio to learn more about her books.

It's About Meeting Community Needs

Nonprofits exist to meet community needs, are governed by community members and are supported by community contributions. A nonprofit’s tax exempt and legal status means its proceeds must be reinvested in its mission, making it ultimately accountable to the community. Your mission is not about your organization, it’s about meeting community needs.

No matter how broadly or narrowly you define it, your agency exists to serve a community. That community doesn’t care how big you are or how well you function internally, it cares about your ability to meet its needs. To the broader community, organizational operations don’t matter at all. It’s the product that counts. The responsibilities of executive directors encompass more than being leaders in their own organizations; they are also leaders in the community. They must mobilize their board, staff, volunteers, and your community toward that goal.

Fundraising is about partnerships between your organization and its community, your organization and its clients, and your organization and its donors. Your reason for existence, then, is not the survival of your organization, but on the survival capacity of your organization’s ability to meet needs. One of the primary reasons executive directors play a crucial role in fundraising is because fundraising is not about raising money to keep the agency afloat – fundraising is about meeting community needs and furthering mission.

It is the executive director who articulates and infuses mission throughout the organization. It is the executive director’s dedication to the mission of the organization that will set the benchmark for every other person who is involved with the organization – board, staff, volunteers, community partners and donors. The executive director, often synonymous to the organization itself, is the chief mission officer. It is a role they cannot shirk. And it is the basis of all fundraising.

How do you convey to others that you meet community needs? First, you need to be relevant. What you accomplish must matter to the people you serve. This is why it’s important to base your funding appeals on community needs. Relevance begins with information. It’s not enough to say you’re doing good work. You need to back up those statements with either your own research or data from other authorities. A thorough community needs assessment is the first step to being relevant.

To be relevant, people need to know you exist. This is where public relations and communications come into play. By communicating your mission, people learn who you are and get involved. Your marketing and public relations strategies are not about helping your organization, but rather about helping the community. All of your communications should focus on community needs, and how well you meet them.

You also have to respond to legislation that impacts your mission. If meeting your organization’s community need is important to your stakeholders, you must let them know when their interests are at risk. Know what’s happening around you and share it with others. Create a communications strategy to disseminate information quickly. Give people ways to take action. Get them involved in the processes that affect their lives. In other words, be an effective advocate for your cause.

The community also wants you to use public and individual resources wisely. People who have benefited from these resources want them in place for someone else. This could be true for a variety of issues: health, pets, education, the arts. Meeting community needs is part of your donor acquisition and retention strategy. Again, resource development is not about raising money, it is about meeting community needs.

Hopefully, your agency represents a wise use of public money, generating immediate benefits or preventing long-term problems. You may achieve your goals using fewer resources and show a tremendous return on investment. As a result, your financial management strategy is, once again, about mission.

The driving force behind all fundraising is meeting a mission. Not about the organization making the request or their need for money. If you’ve done your research, you already know what your donor is interested in and how much they are interested in donating. Donors want to a meet a defined need. Match your agency’s mission to that of the potential funder. And focus on what they are interested in doing – meeting a defined community need. A good mission statement tells the world exactly what need an agency meets. A good fundraising appeal tells the donor how to meet that need in a specific way.

Confessions of a Successful Grants WriterAs I explore in my book, Confessions of a Successful Grants Writer, the first step in attracting institutional funding is to match your agency’s mission with that of the funder, that is, to make sure that you and the funder are interested in meeting the same need. Both your agency and the funding agency exist to meet their respective missions. Grant writing is not so much about raising money as it is about implementing a compelling mission. It is not about getting money for a particular program or your agency. The program or the agency is the vehicle that is used to implement the mission, not the end result. Fulfillment of mission is the end result. To attract foundation funding, you must first and foremost keep your focus on mission and mission fulfillment.

The crux of a grant is it needs statement. Although this might not be the order of final presentation, in writing a proposal, it is only after you have established the community need and your agency’s ability to meet it, should you turn your attention to describing who you think your organization will be successful in meeting the need you described in the way that you described it.

The difference between your agency and the funding agency is that your agency does the hands on work, while the funding agency provides the money for that work to expand or continue. Foundations and other institutional funders don’t give to organizations as much as through organizations. Your job as a grant writer is to let that funder know that you know what community needs exist and that you know how to and are capable of alleviating them. The focus of a grant proposal is not about your organization needing money – it is about your organization meeting a clearly defined community need in partnership with the funder.

This perspective is crucial. The crux of a good proposal is the needs statement. Your job as a grants writer is to first describe the community need and then describe how you plan to meet it. Yes, your ask is important. Yes, the program you implement is important and describing that program will probably take up most of the space in your proposal. Yes, your budget is important. And yes, how well you function as an organization is important. But these things are only important in how they relate to the need you are trying to meet.

Most grant writers have no problem talking about how great their agency is. But in a good proposal, describing the wonderful things about your agency should relate to meeting the community need you describe, not just anything or everything your organization might be. For example, any awards that your agency has received or certifications it might have should only be brought up if they relate to how well you meet the need you described. For example, you wouldn’t put an excellence in housing award in a proposal about parent education. Or you wouldn’t talk about your staff’s certification in reaching adolescents if you are writing a proposal about elder care.

Be cautious that your organization is not the main focus of your proposal. The main focus of a good proposal is squarely on meeting community need. Your organization should not be at the front and center of your grant writing efforts. Your organization’s achievements are only relative to the need you meet. With this focus in mind, you describe why you are the best choice among many. Stand out from the crowd and establish your uniqueness.

Does your organization’s operational structure and strategy support meeting your community’s needs?

Do your organization’s fundraising efforts focus on the needs of the organization or the need of the community and the people who live there?

Do you focus your appeals on meeting community needs?

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