Communication and Dialogue are Keys to Long-Term Nonprofit Success

I have spent the majority of my career working with or for nonprofit organizations. One of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years is that just because I know what is going on doesn’t mean everyone else does.

As the leader of an organization, it’s your job to know. But when it comes to your board members, investors, volunteers, community, and other constituencies either directly or indirectly connected to your organization, there are varying levels of awareness. The painful lesson learned on this front is that perception is reality.

There can be many layers of fact between what others think they’ve seen, what they think they understand, and reality.


Fundraising is a necessary function for any nonprofit organization. To be successful in reaching fundraising goals, an organization needs to instill confidence in its investors regarding the performance of the organization and provide a tangible demonstration of its value to the community it serves. In the absence of those ideals, an investor may choose to reduce what they have given in the past or even worse, not make a commitment at all. Additionally, they could potentially pass on their limited, perhaps damaging thoughts to other investors.

Funding is critical to carrying out your mission. Funding is voluntary. We are asking for something that has an expectation. Ergo, in order to have success in fundraising, you must accept personal responsibility for telling your organization’s story and getting ahead of any potential issues.

Open the Door for Trust

Trust stimulates loyalty. Loyal investors are more willing to support your mission. Speaker and author Bob Burg refers to what he calls the “Golden Rule of Networking.” It says that all things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.

You can build that trust for investors in your nonprofit by clearly showing them your outcomes and why they are investable. Provide them everything they need to understand what you are doing and how important the work is for the community it serves. Don’t make the mistake of thinking content is consumed in the same way by everyone. Make sure you are communicating consistently and through a variety of channels.

If you think sending out an occasional email newsletter is going to do the trick, think again. Use social media, blog posts, and traditional media such as newspaper, radio, and television. Take opportunities to speak to groups, send letters, and write personal notes. Create a delivery strategy that includes all of these, on a regular timeline, and you will optimize your ability to reach the biggest audience. The more people who know about the work you’re doing and the outcomes you’re generating, the greater your opportunity when it comes to securing investors.

Feedback Loop

As a project director in the field for Convergent, I hear lots of things from prospective investors. The third party wall allows them to speak freely and what I hear in those situations is frequently far from an accurate assessment of the organization I am representing. Naturally, I share these comments with my nonprofit organization client. Negative feedback or inaccurate perceptions are always an opportunity. Not listening is the problem.

Habit number five in Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Nonprofit leaders can get in front of a problem by opening the door for a conversation and then actively listening to what’s being said. Nine times out of ten you have the answers to investor questions and concerns. In the event the investor’s perception is correct, you can commit to clearing up the problem or doing better in the future.

One of our recommendations at the conclusion of a capital campaign is to establish an investor advisory council. Regular meetings with this group are a powerful forum to present important updates and firsthand information about what’s working well and where there are challenges. It also allows investors to contribute their thoughts to the process. Engaged investors lead to more willing investors. Having them actively engaged is critical when it comes time to ask them to renew their investment.

The Danger of Inaction

Everyone has work to do. Everyone is busy. Don’t ever let that be a trap that keeps you from adequately communicating with your investors and key community stakeholders. Just because you are doing great things doesn’t mean you can check off that box and think everyone knows about it.

Share announcements, share good news, share, share, and overshare what needs to be heard to keep everyone informed about the progress of your program of work, your outcomes, and all the great things happening in your organization. The danger of a lack of communication and open dialogue is not having the funding in the future that your organization needs to succeed.

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