Updated: Jul 20
If you've bought a house or a car or applied for any kind of loan in your lifetime, you understand very clearly just how important it is to prove you are "real." What do I mean by real? It's up to you to show you are who you say you are, you have the financial resources you claim, you're an employee of the organization you say you work for... The burden of proof is on you. The same is true for nonprofit organizations pursuing grant funds.
A grant-maker needs to know that the funds they invest in your nonprofit are going to be spent and managed wisely and will be used for the philanthropic purpose they support. While you may have everything lined up appropriately, you may be missing some elements that help bolster your nonprofit's "credibility." Here are a few examples that we've heard from grant administrators that have caused them to pause and question whether or not a nonprofit is really as credible as they claim:
You don't have a branded email address.
If you’re using a free service like Google or Yahoo for email and don't have a branded email address that matches the name of your nonprofit, it immediately gives the impression that your organization isn’t established yet. This is an easy and inexpensive fix. That ties perfectly into our next reason you may not look real to a grant-maker.
You don’t have a website.
If you don't have a website in the 21st century, you basically don't exist. A website tells the world that your organization is real and it gives you the opportunity to share your mission, programs, impact, financial stability, and opportunities to support your work with people around the world. So, what's the problem?
Let’s go through some of the objections we've heard from nonprofits for setting up a website:
“We can’t afford it.” - If you can’t afford a website at $30-40 a month, then you are not ready to submit grant requests. That’s blunt, but your nonprofit should be able to financially support some administrative costs before you start requesting grants. A website is one of the most affordable of those costs. Yes, advanced and elaborate websites can get expensive. But, there are platforms out there that are affordable in the $20-$30 a month range.
“We don’t have time.”- Most website platforms offer templates that are easy to install and customize. Designing a website is as basic or as complicated as you want to make it. You decide what you want to put out there and what you can manage as far as content and updating that content based on your schedule and the team you have available to help you. And that doesn’t just mean paid staff. Board members, volunteers, or interns could help update or design your website in less than a week.
BONUS: Launching a website with a custom domain solves the email address problem. When you get a custom domain for your nonprofit, you can also get branded email accounts for that domain.
You have an empty Guidestar or Charity Navigator profile.
Every nonprofit organization that is registered with the IRS has a profile on Guidestar and Charity Navigator. Both are charity assessment organizations that help donors learn more about nonprofits they may be interested in supporting, such as the nonprofit's financial position, their Board members, their mission, their programs, their leadership, etc. If you have never updated your Guidestar or Charity Navigator profiles, your organization is missing another opportunity to engage with savvy donors, particularly foundation grant-makers. While it may take some time to get to a 5-star rating, something is better than nothing. Having added some content shows you’re actively engaged in sharing information about your nonprofit and willing to be transparent with donors.
You don’t have a social media presence.
Think about your own internet habits. When you search for a restaurant, what is one of the first things you do? You read the reviews, right? What happens if you can’t find that restaurant on Yelp or Facebook or Instagram? Do you take a chance and go there anyway? Or do you keep searching for ones that have reviews and photos?
So, what are other people saying about your nonprofit? From a reader’s perspective, really the only way to get that information in an organic and mostly unbiased way is social media. Social media gives us the opportunity to engage with clients, Board members, volunteers, staff, donors, and complete strangers all in the same place at no cost other than time.
I hear the same objection of not having time to set up and maintain a social media presence. And again, I get it. But there are resources available you could explore. One of the most helpful resources is Hootsuite or other similar platforms. These platforms allow you to post to all of your social media streams at once, with scheduled posts allowing you to build out a calendar of content for as far out as you want or have time to do. Most of these platforms are subscription-based but still affordable at around $30 or less per month. Or, you could post the way you post to your personal accounts: one at a time as you have time.
Savvy donors and grant-makers want to see photos of your work, your clients (when they allow you to), your office, your team, and your mission making a difference in the world, upcoming and past events, and regular, up-to-date posts (think at least twice a week). Seeing your work in real-time is so impactful and can help differentiate your nonprofit from others like you.
For more help with building a positive reputation for your nonprofit before launching a grant writing strategy, join us for an upcoming webinar. Check out the schedule here or follow us on social media.
Showing a grant-maker that you are engaged with your constituents, that you are an active nonprofit that is a part of the community you serve, and that you’re open to feedback and conversations with people is an important part of proving your organization is a worthy investment.
At Just Write Grants, this is what we do for our clients on a daily basis. We help them tell the most compelling story of the organization and the need for its programs, describing them in a way that makes grant-makers want to join them in that important work. Contact us today to learn more about our one-of-a-kind grant writing subscriptions and receive 30 minutes of free, custom grant research. Visit www.justwritegrants.com/virtualmeeting or call 1-866-7GRANTS today.