Grant Writing: Answering the Question Do You Have Community Support?

What Foundation Reviewers Want to Know, Asked or Not told us the eight questions grant reviewers want answered. Grant Writing: Answering the Question What Need Will You Meet?;  Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Will You Meet the Need You Described?; Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Do You Know You Will Be Successful in Doing What You say You Can Do?; Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Will You Measure Your Success?; and Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Much Will Your Program Cost? answered the first five questions. Now we turn to question six: do you have community support?

Community support is crucial to nonprofit survival. After all, nonprofits are governed by community leaders to meet community needs with majority of their support from community individuals and organizations. Even if the foundation you are applying to will be the sole program funder, you will still need to show broad community support. Foundations today realize that tackling big, hairy, bodacious community issues requires a big, hairy, bodacious community effort. No one organization can do it on its own. The problems are just too big.  

Showing Community Support through Agency Partnerships

Most grant writers intuitively know that showing community support is about articulating partnerships. However, some of these partnerships are more visible than others. Formal partnerships are usually obvious. Informal partnerships may be less apparent.

Formal partnerships are usually solidified in writing, such a contract or memorandum of understanding. They include agreements for running joint programs, sharing joint space, conducting joint studies, providing monetary and nonmonetary donations, licensing and accrediting programs, and sharing industry information. Formal partnerships can encompass the areas organizational operations, client of recruitment, service delivery, program evaluation, financial support, and access to industry information, among others. Sometimes money exchanges hands, sometimes not. When you identify your formal community partners, it really doesn’t matter if money is exchanged or not. In fact, most of the time money may be involved. Government contracts, licensing and accreditation agencies, association memberships, and agency donors are a few often overlooked nonprofit formal partnerships.

Informal partnerships are harder to recognize, but still very important. Even a small agency without any formal partnerships can show community support. How? Board membership representation. How large is your board? What segments of your community do they represent? What community groups are they involved with?

In the same vein, staff representation can be used to show community support. How big is your nonprofit’s staff? What communities do they live in? What segment of the community do they represent? What community groups are they involved with?

What about your volunteers? Volunteers are a great way to show community support. They donate time and labor to your programs. How big is your volunteer base? Where do they come from? Who do they represent?  You should always highlight volunteer involvement in your grant proposals.

Showing Community Support through Agency Community Participation

In addition to formal and informal partnerships, the actual work of your nonprofit can be used to show community support. What community input shapes the work of your nonprofit? For example, in what community meetings or task forces does your executive director or other staff participate?  What community plans did the public contribute to and are your agency a part of? In what community surveys were nonprofit’s services mentioned or did your organization complete? What industry standards and practices are widely accepted in the community? Adherence to industry-accepted standards and practices implies community support.

In addition, your research into writing your grant proposals can imply community support. What community resources are you using to substantiate community need? Just by sourcing your needs statements, you are showing community involvement in studying the needs your nonprofit meets. By articulating good needs statements in your proposal, you are showing a community involvement, because the community needs are emphasized, as opposed to a financial or program focus. Even your client base can show community support. After all, your clients are from the community.

Showing Community Support in Your Budget, Monetary Request, and Financial Sustainability Statements

As we saw in “Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Much Will Your Program Cost?”, your budget is a monetary reflection of your narrative. What formal and informal partnerships generate revenue for your nonprofit that can be used to support the program in question? Are any of your partners donating space, goods or services to your agency, or to your clients? What other foundations are contributing to your program? What corporate entities are sponsoring the program? How many dollars are individuals contributing to the program? How many dollars are your clients contributing to your program through service fees? Don’t overlook the power of your budget and direct request for funding to show strong community support. 

Formal partnerships are often more obvious than informal ones. Both can be used to illustrate broad community support. Formal partnerships are usually solidified in writing and may or may not involve an exchange of money. Board, staff, and volunteer community involvement can demonstrate community support. The work of your agency, and even of your grant writing, can express community support. Use your revenue budget to provide financial evidence of broad community support.

Wrapping It Up

  • Formal agency partnerships illustrate community support, including those in which money is exchanged.
  • Board, staff and volunteer community affiliations exhibit community support.
  • The work of your agency, methods described your programming, and research cited in your needs statement all imply community support.
  • Your revenue budget and funding request can be powerful tools in demonstrating strong community support.

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