This article was originally published in Nonprofit Hub Magazine.
Not all that long ago, intellectual capital—knowledge of processes and data, informational resources, etc.—was critical to businesses and nonprofits. The people had the knowledge, and knowledge is power. But now, in the apex of technology and automation, a lot of information and processes are controlled by robots, servers or other invisible hands.
For the past 60 or so years, and especially since the advent of the internet, social capital—interpersonal relationships and networks—has become increasingly crucial. And we’re not talking about the number of Facebook friends you have, but people you’d actually take time to get coffee or lunch with. For nonprofits, the way to expand your reach and make a name for yourself has much more to do with these networks than it does with raw intellect.
This is good news! As nonprofit professionals, most of us are already in the business of people, whether we’re building houses, raising money, educating children or another noble pursuit. If you want to legitimize your organization within your field, take advantage of the networks you’ve already created and tap into those just beyond your current reach.
Your cause is important, and you should always keep your mission in the front of your mind. However, it’s also important to remember that people give to people. Yes: donors want to further the cause—of course! But, in almost all cases, donors give after having a memorable interaction with an individual, be it an executive director, fundraiser or volunteer.
So perhaps the first step in making a name for yourself in your community is to actually go out into your community and interact with potential donors. Attend town hall meetings, other organization’s fundraisers and other community-centered events. Be prepared with stories of how your cause is making a difference (my friend and nonprofit storytelling guru Lori Jacobwith calls these “Mission Moments”).
Once you’ve physically established yourself in the community, you need to choose the best way for your organization to exist online. Do you have a blog? A good writer for that blog? A Twitter account? Podcast? There are myriad modes of online publishing, and the publishing strategy you choose should be based on your organization’s composition and capacity. If you’re a part of a small, busy team, it might not make sense to spend a majority of your time writing blog posts. However, it’s crucial that you don’t neglect your online presence—it directly contributes to your organization’s brand.
After you’ve asserted yourself in the community and online, it’s time to start truly owning your brand. You’ve probably heard this before—that it’s crucial to “own” whatever you and your organization stand for. It’s vague, probably overused advice, but, at the heart of it, it makes a lot of sense. Let the brand you’ve created for yourself inform every decision you make, online and offline. For example, before you post something to social media, ask yourself, “Does this fit with our brand?” If it feels a little off (trust me, you’ll know), or isn’t in some way contributing to your overall mission, it probably isn’t on brand.
Owning your brand also has a lot to do with the time you spend outside of work. Now, I’m not proposing that you let your job dominate your life, but it’s important to remember that you’re representing your organization wherever you go: to parties, other organizations’ fundraisers, to the movies (imagine you’re wearing your organization’s logo on your forehead).
Finally, after you’ve cemented your organization and your brand in the community, it’s vital that you empower your staff, volunteers and donors to communicate with their individual networks. Encourage them to ambassadors for your organization at their jobs, meetings and social events. Even a social media post can make a world of difference.
Making your organization a go-to option among donors isn’t easy, especially if you’re starting from scratch. However, if you empower your staff to go out into the community and advocate for your organization, ultimately leading to a broadened network of supports, you’ll be well on your way. And always remember that confidence is key—confidence in yourself, in your mission and in your social networks to help diffuse your cause into the community and beyond.