8 Reasons for Nonprofits to Get Social with Foundations
I probably shouldn't be writing this blog post. I ought to relish the news that most of my nonprofit colleagues are not using social media to connect with the foundations that fund them. According to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), only 16% of the grantees used at least one social media tool created by the funders included in the study. I believe the other 84% are missing out and giving a big competitive advantage to those of us that do see social media as a way to engage with funders. I've come across thoughtful posts by the Knight Foundation and the Patterson Foundation sharing the funder perspective on the benefits of engaging with grantees. While we early adopters of social engagement with our funders might get some short-run advantage, we all must ultimately collaborate with our friends in the foundation world create signficant social impact. I think social media can be a great platform for funder and grantees to connect and learn together, so will share my reasons for engaging with foundations.
First, I should point out that the CEP study was asking current grantees of some 34 foundations if they use social media from the foundations that are funding them. I would say social media can be an even greater asset for a nonprofit seeking to establish a new funding relationship with a foundation; perhaps some of the survey respondents use social media of new foundations they are targeting. My list combines reasons for nonprofits to engage on social media with both current and potential funders.
1) Go where the funders are: As a nonprofit leader, would you be inclined to accept an invite to a cocktail party where you knew a lot of funders would be? I thought so! Well, there is such a party with an open invite, called social media. 71% of the foundations in the CEP study use social media in their work, and presumably a good number of them understand the medium is a place to have interesting conversations with people who share their interests. You don't need a special invite or a big checkbook to join the social media conversation!
2) Keep up with your field Most foundations are able to allocate more time and resources to reviewing the latest research and attending conferences than most community organizations. They seek to share information that helps shape the debate on important issues. Through social media I can glean key points shared by foundations from conferences I'm not able to attend and reports I might not have had a chance to read. It's a quick and efficient way to stay current, and know what's on the minds of my current and future funders.
3) Gain access: Let's face it, getting in the door of many foundations isn't easy, especially for small, less well-known nonprofits. Social media can be a game changer for nonprofits seeking to connect with a new funder. We at SCI have had several new opportunities emerge through social media that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Foundations that have made a serious commitment to social media are there to engage on their issues. If you share some common interests with a funder, they are typically quite open to exchange information on the basis of your common interests, regardless of whether they know you.
4) Build relationships: Social media can help develop a relationship after an initial contact is made, too. Foundation staff on Twitter are often sprinkling in tweets that give you a sense of their personal interests, providing an opening for relationship building "small talk" about vacations, pets or kids that you might have over coffee. Frequent connections on social media that show you and the foundation have common interests can also lead to offline conversations and opportunities.
5) Amplify your message: Foundations active on social media can develop a sizeable following based on their role and communications resources. Thus, they present current grantees a great way to get their message out. As Jon Sotsky and Elizabeth Miller point out, a foundation's success depends on the success of its grantees. Therefore, foundations are eager to use social media to highlight grantees' successes and use their platform to amplify the good news of the nonprofit's accomplishments. Mentioning the foundation with their handle in a tweet or tagging them on Facebook is a good way to call their attention to an accomplishment they might want to share with their network.
6) Learn about funding opportunities: Naturally, foundations share about their funding opportunities on social media. They are likely to share opportunities from fellow foundations with which you might not be familiar. Just this morning I learned of a new, very relevant grant opportunity thanks to a tweet from our friends at Associated Grantmakers of Massachusetts.
7) Position your organization: We leverage social media to share useful articles and tips related to our mission with a wide audience. Striving to be a good resource on social media is a great way to attract followers, including people in the foundation world. We have seen how positioning SCI as a leader via social media then leads to increased access and opportunities.
8) Read between the lines: One key benefit to talking with foundation staff is that the conversation provides context and insight into their interests, beyond what they publish in their initial guidelines. Listening to and engaging with foundation staff on social media can provide similar insights to what one might derive from a meeting with them, but a social media conversation is often easier to come by.
TIPS FOR GRANTEES: I'm following over 3,600 Twitter accounts, so strategies for keeping a closer eye on foundations are important. I monitor a "philanthropy" group feed on Tweetdeck. I put foundation staff and key philanthropy thought leaders in the group as well as the official foundation Twitter handles. I include SCI funders in my "SCI Tweeps" list which I use to follow tweets from a range of SCI partners. Foundations that might not be a likely funding source for SCI still might share information that is useful to us, so I'm pretty liberal in terms of whom I follow. When I'm on a foundation website, I look to see if they have a social media presence, and follow them if they do. In addition, I look to see if they have a blog that gets updated with some frequency, and check back regularly if we are working on a proposal to that foundation.
IDEAS FOR FOUNDATIONS: While I have more to say to my grantseeking colleagues, a few good practices I've seen from foundations for engaging with nonprofits come to mind. I've seen the Boston Foundation make good use of a wide variety of social media to share timely information on a range of community issues, and using Twitter hashtags effectively to follow their convenings remotely. The Knight Foundation lists Twitter handles for nearly all their staff in their bios. Such transparency is a nice way to help nonprofits find the staff members that make the most sense to engage. Perhaps most importantly, foundations can engage their grantees in conversations about what would be most helpful for them on social media, including training and other resources that might be needed for them to engage effectively.
Let's connect! I am the main voice for our organizational Twitter account @socialcap, if you'd also like to know what I had for lunch or read to my son recently, you can follow me @davidbcrowley. You can find SCI on Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, too!