For a nonprofit organization to succeed, it needs support from donors to cover its needs.
Since donors usually come from the community, Colleen Russell Criste, deputy director and chief philanthropy officer at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland; Anna Shabtay, chief advancement officer at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus in Columbus; and Diane Tomer, director of development, marketing and community engagement at Recovery Resources in Cleveland, said nonprofits should look for ways to connect.
“To gain support, it’s important to demonstrate to the community how donations can make an impact on the nonprofit’s mission and those that it serves,” Tomer said. “Organizations that raise funds need to be trusted stewards of donations, and people are driven to donate when they know their gift is used for the intended purpose.”
Donors give to organizations because of the connection they feel to the cause, Shabtay said.
To make those connections, organizations need to be visible in the community and give people a chance to see what they can do. For the Columbus JCC, she added this notion is part of their fundraising framework.
“Community is in our name, engaging the community is the essence of what we do and our supporters choose to include the JCC in their philanthropic decisions because they engage with us somehow,” Shabtay explained. “Every donor engages with the JCC differently. They could visit us for fitness, their children or grandchildren could attend the preschool or play sports here.”
For the Cleveland Museum of Art, community engagement is right at the essence of the museum’s work. Founded by and for the community, Criste said the museum remains committed to providing experiences through art for the benefit of all the people forever by making it accessible to everyone.
“The creative programs, activities, events, and other offerings that we have developed through the years to engage with our community would not be possible without the generous support from the community,” she noted.
At Recovery Resources, the mission seeks to help people overcome their mental illnesses and addictions. For many, the mission carries a stigma, Tomer said. But, the organization works to engage with the community to demonstrate stories of success to show that recovery is possible and people deserve a chance.
“We work with a board of directors and associate board who represent and promote our cause within their profession/company and personal relationships,” she said. “We collaborate with multiple groups who have similar goals such as the Justice System, City Mission, MetroHealth and countless volunteers.”
Without community engagement, organizations might struggle to meet their fundraising goals. Because of that, the professionals said being known in the community can help inspire gifts and get the word out.
“It’s about the relationship,” Criste stated. “People tell us they want to support an organization because they feel a connection and ownership with us. They want us to thrive and we want the community to thrive.”
Shabtay said that community engagement also comes in many forms, like driving monetary gifts, storytelling in the community or offering ways for people to volunteer directly.
“Philanthropy researchers will tell you that people who volunteer, participate, and engage with a non-profit are more likely to give financially to a nonprofit than someone who isn’t engaged in the cause,” she explained. “When we can engage our community in this way, we can tell our story and impress upon them that we need their philanthropic support in addition to their participation and engagement.”
But, organizations should work to be natural in the ways they connect with their community. If not, efforts won’t be as effective, Tomer said.
“Storytelling plays an important role when connecting a potential donor or a repeat donor to help drive gifts,” she said. “The nonprofit must engage with the community using storytelling, transparency and trust so that it is organic and sincere.”