Reputation Counts in Getting the Grant Funding

What is your nonprofit’s reputation? Is it intact? What about your leadership? What is your executive director’s reputation? What about you as the grant liaison? What do others think about you personally? And what in the world does reputation have to do with grant funding?

Your nonprofit’s, leadership’s, and your reputation have a lot to do with the nuances of what goes in in the deliberations room. The competition for grant funding is fierce. And funders want to be sure their money goes to a credible agency. In addition, funders are a small group of people who often belong to the same professional associations, meet each other at conferences, or sit on funding panels together. Your nonprofit’s, executive director’s and your reputation get around. Automatic strike if there is any doubt about the ability of your organization being able to ethically do what it is says it will do. If you do not do what you say you may be subject to performance and financial audits. If you are found wanting, you may have to give the money back, not to mention the public relations nightmare. What about your agency’s and executive director’s reputation then?

As a public check of your agency’s integrity, your nonprofit may pursue industry accreditations. Industry accreditations show that your organization’s practices and procedures have undergone a thorough outside review and have been rated excellent in the field. Outside accreditations give your agency credibility and help demonstrate your superiority in the industry, giving you a competitive edge.

Free Online Training

Today’s article deals specifically with maintaining a good reputation. For a more complete discussion of what funder’s look at when evaluating proposals, listen to my free online training How to Get Funded: An Ex-Grants Reviewer Reveals Her Secrets at

Influencing What They Think of You

One of the great things about reputation is that you can influence it. Your reputation is based upon the behaviors you end up doing, the messaging you craft about yourself, and how you prove the truth of your messages.

Acting Ethically

If you are a fundraiser of any kind, including grant writer and belong to either the Grants Professional Association or Association of Fundraising Professionals, you are bound to a professional code of ethics.  You, personally, must be above reproach when dealing with other people’s emotions and finances. Your personal reputation will follow you from job to job. And reflect on the nonprofit that hires you. You have the awesome privilege and responsibility of shaping lives. You best be ethical about it. The consequences of an unsavory reputation aren’t worth it.


Your nonprofit sets community expectations of it by the words it uses and behaviors it engages in. It is your job, as a fundraiser, to ensure that messages about your nonprofit are consistent with one another throughout all your communications, including grant proposals. Many nonprofits send inconsistent messages confusing the public about who they are and what they stand for. For example, a nonprofit that proclaims the dignity and respect of every person but has a high turnover rate because they treat their staff poorly. Or an agency that says they are financially stable yet implements a ‘we won’t survive without your donation’ donation request. Or an agency that applies for funding without matching their mission and goals with that of the funder. If you want the community, and that includes grant funders, to support your nonprofit wholeheartedly without reservation, then your organization must be consistent in their messaging, both in word and deed.

Social Proof

It’s one thing for you to say good things about your nonprofit. It’s much more powerful when someone else says the same thing about your nonprofit. That’s why testimonials and client stories are so important to proposal writing. Because someone else is backing up what you say. Which is why you want to conduct community and client surveys every so often. So that you can have the direct results of what people think of your agency and its services. Boy is that powerful. As is an outside license, certification, or accreditation – someone else has found you worthy. Organizational history also says a lot: we’ve done it before, chances are we’ll do it again. Always have some sort of social proof that backs up what you say about your organization and its ability to do what it says it can do.

Reversing Negative Perceptions

What happens if your agency has a negative reputation, for whatever reason? How do you influence and reverse negative community perceptions?

Transparency and Honesty

Be as transparent and honest as you can. Put your audited financial statements and 990’s on your website. Address your issues head on. I once started working for an organization where funders knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite put their fingers on it. Many had decreased or altogether stopped giving to the nonprofit. What did I do? I wrote all my funders about all the problems we were having, what we were doing about them, and what to expect from us in the future. Then I called to see if they had any questions about my letter. The biggest response I got was relief. I had acknowledged the funders’ perceptions, affirming their unease. I was transparent about what was going on, giving them trust in my leadership. I was brutally honest about what we could and couldn’t do to fix the issues. And I started, with that one brutally honest, transparent letter to change my nonprofit’s negative reputation.

Repeated positive interactions

But I didn’t stop there. I followed up the bad news with the good news. I called and spoke to funders. I kept them abreast of the progress we were making and the milestones we had reached. I thanked them for sticking with us and believing is us. I gushed over their financial support. And backed up what I said in writing. I wrote a follow up letter, telling them what we had accomplished in the last six months. I made this part of my grant narratives in my credibility statements. I affirmed their actions. I created as many repeated positive interactions with my funders as I could.

And it worked. It took about a year of consistent messaging and positive interactions to turn the tide, but we did it. We got there. Today, many of the funders who had so many doubts are strong advocates of the agency. Yes, it takes a lot of work. And change needs to happen. But it can be done.

Wrapping It Up

What is your nonprofit’s reputation? Is it intact? What about your leadership? What is your executive director’s reputation? What about you as the grant liaison? What do others think about you personally? If it’s stellar, work on your messaging in both word and deed, start measuring what the community thinks about you so you can share improvements, be transparent, and be brutally honest. Behave ethically. In many ways, you are the maker of your own reputation. And that can make the difference in getting the grant funding.

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