Are You Ready for Grassroots Fundraising? (Part 2)

Last week, I suggested the first three distinctions of grassroots fundraising: who you know is at least as important as what you know; who they know may be more important than what your organization does; and mistakes are more public and require more attention.

Following are three additional differences I have experienced between grassroots fundraising and working as a fundraiser for an organization with a broader constituent base. While neither one is better nor necessarily easier, moving from one to the other without being aware of the differences can lead to failure — both for you as a fundraiser and possibly to the nonprofit (at least short term).

Don’t ask for an opinion unless you plan to do something with it
We often send surveys or ask potential major donors for their opinions to help increase donor involvement. Much of the time, this information is interesting — but it might not alter anything we do.

In a grassroots organization, donors are more likely to expect you to take their advice and make changes as a result. There is a much greater sense of connection as they see you regularly, may visit your programs and possibly feel integral to your success.

If you ask for an opinion, be ready to incorporate it — or at least explain why you didn’t after giving it fair consideration. Otherwise, you run the risk of seeming arrogant or patronizing — or even “ignorant” because (they believe) you don’t recognize good advice when you hear it.

Social media is critical since the feeling of ‘friendship’ is stronger
While social media is great on the national level, it becomes even more important on the local level. Providing up-to-date information, kudos to businesses and community leaders who lend a hand, photos of your program, and reports on events is more like sharing news with your family — it’s expected to show up on your social-media pages.

This is also a great way to “meet” new friends. Include your social-media contact information on everything you do in terms of publicity, and then make sure the content you provide is fresh and local-based. You can become the “go-to site” if you give your neighbors information about the community that is interesting to them.

Volunteers can make or break your nonprofit
On a national level, many nonprofits don’t rely on volunteers other than to stuff letters or help with other office functions. On a local level, they are the lifeblood of your organization. They make the events happen. They provide “staff” when you can’t afford to hire any. They recruit new donors. And they are brand ambassadors for your organization.

Making sure your volunteers have an experience that is meaningful and enjoyable is critical. If a volunteer feels unappreciated or mistreated, he or she will tell others — and those “others” are also your neighbors. Your reputation in the community can be rapidly smeared by one unhappy volunteer. On the other hand, an engaged and energized volunteer could be the PR machine your organization can’t afford to hire.

Consider developing a Volunteer Bill of Rights; an example is provided by The NonProfit Times. When everyone in the organization buys in to this, you have productive, fulfilled volunteers who love your work and want their families and friends to have the privilege of also being part of your nonprofit.

Remember the key takeaway from these two articles on grassroots fundraising vs. fundraising for an organization with a larger scope: Neither one is better. They are just different. Being forewarned and considering if you have the skill set and temperament to move from one to another can contribute to success — for you and the nonprofit where you invest your time and talents.

And once again, if you have any stories or lessons to share about your experience in navigating these two distinct worlds, use the comment space below to share your tips.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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