Who Toots Your Horn?

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One of the elements of a persuasive proposal is the credibility of the applicant. Nonprofits should think about what it is that establishes their stature and value to the community. Hint: it’s probably more than just your own claims about your successes or your longevity or your staff resumes.


A frequent request from potential funders often sounds like this: "Please emphasize the achievements of the recent past.” It’s a fair question and it opens the door to endorsements, salutes and votes of confidence from people outside the organization who are willing to credit your organization for what’s you’ve done.


Where in the community is your work seen, known, recognized and appreciated? Who else (besides your staff and your clients) knows about what you do and what difference it makes? A good exercise is to carry out a community scan to identify your nonprofit’s impact and ask for comment from key stakeholders who notice it, too.


Has your organization done anything to generate “earned media?” That’s coverage you don’t have to pay for. Maybe your nonprofit played a part in addressing an important public issue in town; if you did, you might let local media know about it. With the funder’s cooperation, you might call out a big grant you’ve won and go public with your plans to make a difference. That sets the stage for new reports about progress you’re making and more opportunities for attention being paid.


Many nonprofits run the risk of hunkering down in a closed chamber where it’s just “us and our clients.” There’s a lot to be learned, and gained, from opening up that relationship to let others see—and talk about—the benefits of your programs.


America’s late-19th Century sage William James said it years ago and it rings true today: “What holds attention determines action.” If your nonprofit does its work in a way that earns some attention from the public, or from local government or corporate or other leaders, you’ll hear about it. Gathering favorable comments about your work is a useful part of making the case for support.



Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center

and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.



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