In era of Trump, nonprofits need clarity

Many nonprofits fear President Trump will engineer cuts in funding for them and causes they care about.

The good news is that the new political order can serve as an incentive for charities to do a better job telling their story.

Whatever happens to government funding, nonprofits still will face the challenge of communicating more clearly and effectively with prospective supporters and partners about the needs they address, the way they operate and the difference they make for the people and communities they serve.

The 1.5 million charities in the U.S. — most of them small, compared to big hospitals, universities and museums — traditionally have been expected to do a lot with a little, while struggling to meet rising demand for services and make ends meet.

Fundraising consumes a big share of their time and attention, and charities get little support to build their operations, develop strategies and partnerships, or equip their board and staff to improve their work.

Nonprofits that provide health and human services, or education, to name just a few critical needs, fear government will spend less to address those needs.

Cuts in taxpayer funding will increase demand for nonprofit services from clients no longer able to turn to government programs. And greater demand will make it even more critical for nonprofits to find private support.

Competition for charitable dollars already is fierce. The number of nonprofits keeps growing, and donors increasingly want and expect nonprofits to be more effective, efficient and productive in addressing social needs and running their organizations.

Donors and other investors, including individuals, foundations, companies and government, want nonprofits to use creative strategies that improve communities by engaging more partners, whether charitable, for-profit or taxpayer-supported.

Donors want to see nonprofit business plans that explain exactly how and why they will work. They want to see the “metrics” that nonprofits will use to show their progress and impact. They want nonprofits to be clear and candid about their projected costs, the real hurdles they face and the realistic social returns they expect to generate from the investment they get.

In tough or uncertain times, many nonprofits fall into the nearsighted trap of self-righteousness and self-congratulation. Instead of being clear and honest about the social and operating challenges they face, they hype their role and the impact of their work. They emphasize their own needs as organizations over those of the people and communities they serve. They pander to donors, using vague, feel-good jargon, rather than precise language, as if simply touting the worthiness of their cause were enough to justify support.

In today’s often harsh and demanding political, economic and social climate, nonprofits need to be more clear, blunt and passionate than ever about the needs they address, the work they do, the way they operate, the challenges they face, the supporters and other partners they count on, and their impact.

Nonprofits can inspire the donors and organizations they need to better serve their communities through the stories they tell, the language they use, the facts they share, and the awareness they raise of community needs.

The key is to make it easy for their prospective investors and partners to see the difference they can make by getting involved, and to understand why they should provide their support.

Want professional help? Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support to nonprofits, foundations, higher education, businesses and others working for social good. To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

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Stories that inspire

Good stories about doing good raise awareness of community needs, show your impact, and inspire your work and support for it.

Philanthropy North Carolina, a communications consulting practice, works with charities to create those stories.

PNC clients include nonprofits, foundations, corporate-giving programs, colleges and universities, and consultants and firms serving the social sector.

PNC products and services include:

* News releases. Op-ed columns. Newsletters. Annual reports. Web content. Fundraising and marketing materials. Donor and client profiles. Case statements. Reports, plans, white papers, case studies.

*  Advice and counseling on the charitable world. Communications training and talking points for board and staff. Communications plans. Brand development. Crisis communications.

To learn more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

Engage donors through your story

Donors want make a difference, and be appreciated, informed and involved.

So use continual communication to build your relationship with your donors.

Get to know them, and help them get to know you and your organization.

Who are your donors? What do they care about, and why? What is their dream? How do they want to help make it happen?

Explain the need you address, your work, and the lives you affect.

Talk about what you do, how you operate, and the people you serve. Who are your partners? What role does each of you play? How do run your programs and business?

Telling your story is a way to engage the donors and other partners you need to make a difference.

So focus your stories on social needs, their human and financial cost, and the social and economic return that donors can expect from investing in your work.

Keep your stories short and clear. Avoid hype and stick to details that focus on people living better lives as a result of what you do.

And if donors want to know more, particularly about how you operate, be candid about any bumps in your operations and services, and the steps you have taken to overcome them.

Openness will show donors your dedication to learning from mistakes to improve your work.

And candor and detail about how you identify and fix problems will show donors a variety of ways they can put their experience, knowledge, skills and dollars to work.

Donors want to help, and to know their support matters. So help them see how and why your work — and their involvement — makes a difference.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

Find common ground to promote collaboration

Charities like to tout their partnerships yet often fail to explain how they actually work and why they matter.

Collaborative partners should work together to develop a story that makes it easy for donors and other supporters to understand the partnership, including the need it addresses, the people it serves, the way it operates, and the difference it makes for its community.

Instead, partners often get bogged down in deciding who gets credit and top billing, and in hyping rather than explaining their respective roles and clearly showing their collective impact

Collaborative work represents a great opportunity to engage donors and other partners in making your community a better place to live and work by showing them exactly why a partnership is greater than the sum of its parts in filling critical gaps in serving people in need.

So if you are part of a collaborative initiative, help people understand why they should care and get involved.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

Practice the transparency you preach

“Transparency” is an overused buzzword in the charitable world, with nonprofits and foundations talking a lot about the need to be open and accountable.

Yet far too many charities do far too little to show who they are, what they do or how they work.

Instead of making it easy for people to learn about their programs and finances, many charities fog their websites and marketing materials with hype about how great they are, but offer few details about who they serve, the need they address, the difference they make, and the challenges they face as organizations.

And instead of offering insight into who serves on their board and staff, including details about their jobs and professional background, and making it easy to connect with them, charities offer fluff.

Their websites may list their board members but provide little if any information about their work and employers, or how to reach them.

The biographies they provide for their staff may list their job titles and personal information about their families, pets and hobbies, but say little about their professional background or the role they actually play at the charity.

And while charities often provide an organizational history on their websites and in their marketing materials, those histories often can be big on overstatement and short on specifics.

Charities also seem reluctant to disclose even the suggestion that they may have faced problems or even failures, or to explain what they did to address those challenges.

The donors, volunteers and other partners that a charity counts on for support want to know as much as they can about charities they may want to support and get involved with for the long-term.

So instead of hype and generalities, use your website and marketing materials to provide the facts, figures and context that will make your charity truly open and accessible to the people you need to deepen your impact and help sustain the important work you do.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

Tell the story of your collaboration

If your charity teams with other groups to address an urgent need, take the time to help people understand how you work together and the difference your partnership makes for your community.

Many nonprofits talk a lot about the need for collaboration, and many foundations and corporate funders use their funding to encourage groups to form partnerships to make a bigger impact in addressing a problem.

Yet too few nonprofits bother to try to help their supporters understand how collaboration works, including the challenges and benefits of creating and carrying out effective partnership.

So make it easy for the people you count on for support to see the value of investing in joint initiatives.

First, provide some basic background. What is the community need? Who does it affect, and how? What are its causes? What already is being done about it? What is the impact of existing solutions? What are gaps in exising services?

Then, talk about your collaboration. What is its goal, and how does it plan to achieve it? Who are the partners, and what role does each play in the partnership? What led to your working together? What hurdles have you had to deal with in making the collaboration work, and what have you done to overrcome them? Why do you expect the impact of your collective effort will produce better results than the work each partner had been doing on its own? What difference has the effort actually made for the people and community you serve?

Collaboration can be difficult, slow, messy, frustrating work, and simply saying you work in partnership with other groups may sound good but does not help people understand why your collaboration matters and why they should support it.

If you want donors and other partners to join you in working together to take on a pressing community need, tell stories that help them see the return they can expect to get from collaborating with you.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

Focus your message on your actual impact

Nonprofits spend too much time talking about their imagined role when they should be working to explain their work and understand and connect with the people and places they serve.

Instead of showing the actual difference they make in their community, many charities simply tout what they would like to do, and gear their stories to what they think their own staff and board should hear.

Their websites and marketing materials inflate their community leadership and role, as if proclaiming your charity is a leader, innovator and risk-taker makes it one.

Their message also seems designed to reassure their own organizations about their aspirations and value.

And while they hype their initiatives as bold, they fail to explain how they work or why they matter.

Donors, volunteers, sponsors and partner agencies do not care what your nonprofit might want to do, or that it sees itself as an indispensable and courageous community asset and partner.

They do of course expect and want your goals to be ambitious in addressing your community’s urgent and diverse needs.

But what they really want to know — and what will help them decide whether to support you — is what you actually do with the resources you have.

What community need do you address? Who do you serve? What do you do to improve their lives, and how do you do it? How does your work make your community better?

Instead of throwing time and resources into self-promotion and self-affirmation, take the time and make the effort to make your cause and work clear.

Make it easy for anyone to see the social return they can expect from investing in helping you try to do better what you already do well.

Carrying out your mission depends on truly connecting with donors and other partners. So help them want to be part of what you do by spelling out exactly what that is.

By telling your story through the details of your work, you not only show donors and partners the need you serve and the difference you make. You also show them the range of opportunities they have to get involved.

And if they get it, you can begin to build a relationship.

So do not misuse your communications to simply boost and cheer for your organization.

Instead, create stories that explain your cause and impact, and can help you engage the supporters and partners you count on to best serve your community.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.