To meet the community’s needs, it takes a village. No one nonprofit can do it alone. We need community support. We need to develop relationships with a wide array of community members. We need to partner with one another to achieve our mutual goals.
A partnership is an agreement to cooperate so that each party benefits. It is an exchange relationship. Each party gives and gets something of value out of the relationship. You give as well as get. And it requires some level of trust.
You are looking for community support. Your value propositions will outline the benefits you have to offer your specific target groups.
And you will build trust partially through your consistent messaging. You will know what you stand for and how to communicate it throughout your internal and external communications and materials. Everything public about you will send one unified message. People and organizations will know what to expect when they interact with you. You will have a strong brand. Awareness of who you are is growing. All you need now is a way for people to enter into a relationship with you.
Types of Community Support
Community support comes in many different forms. Some members of the community may offer financial support, leading to increased revenues. Others may help deliver services, like staff and volunteers. Some community relationships lead to more referrals, helping you meet or exceed your service goals. You may ask for community support to promote your agenda and advocate for you or your cause. Or maybe you want community members, like clients, staff, and the media to spread the word about you. Sometimes community support comes in the form of collaborations that decrease costs or leverage resources, increasing organizational capacity. Maybe you want your supporters to attract and recruit other supporters. The list can go on. The point is that you will most likely be looking for many different types of community support, entering into many different kinds of partnerships with a large number of separate community groups and their members.
And each of these groups will have their own wants and needs. Your job is to fulfill one or more of those wants or needs. And you’re ahead of the game in letting your potential partners what they can expect to receive from you. Because you’ve chosen which groups you want to approach, have researched them, asked them about what they value, and have developed your value propositions. You know, and have told them and will tell them again, how your agency benefits them in ways important to them. You are ready to discuss relationships of mutual benefit. You are armed to begin discussions about what you can do for them and how they can support you.
Approaching Potential Partners
Broadly speaking, community support can come in the form of leadership service, volunteer service, advocacy, staffing, donations, clients, and community collaborations. In order for a partnership to work most effectively and last the longest, not only does each party give and take, each party has something in common with you. Each partner is striving toward an overarching goal, that is, a goal that supersedes each individual party’s goals. Even though the results of the partnership may be different for each party, you approach potential partners based on your similarities.
People and Organizations with Similar Goals
When talking about approaching potential partners, most nonprofit practitioners automatically think of approaching people and organizations with goals to similar to their own. Namely, those who share our passion for our mission and our vision of the future. People and organizations motivated by mission include individual donors, foundations, volunteers, and advocates. Sometimes legislators share our vision of the future as evidenced by the laws they craft and the causes they fund.
An often-overlooked group of people who share your goal of financial success is your vendors. Vendors make good community supporters. They can offer you necessary goods and services at good prices. If asked, they may be inclined to donate to you, either products or cash. If asked, they may also advocate for you or your cause. They regularly interact with you. If those interactions are positive, they may refer clients to you. They may also talk about you with their personal and professional connections, increasing your brand awareness.
Industry associations, such as Child Welfare League of America, American Hospital Association, or state education association, are a great place to generate community support. Especially for advocacy around issues that affect large numbers of organizations like yours. They may also offer training for your staff. Or they may provide technical assistance to you regarding your marketing and communications initiatives.
Another group of potential supporters is people who are interested in community economic development, like a municipal alliance or business special improvement district. In addition to offering a crucial service, your nonprofit contributes to the economic health of your community by offering jobs, buying goods and services, and through payroll taxes. And don’t forget about the secondary industries that employees contribute to like housing, banking, healthcare, education, and childcare, to name a few.
People and Organizations with Complementary Goals
In addition to people and organizations with similar goals, consider approaching people and organizations with goals complementary to yours. Complementary goals may include things like providing housing while partnering with the local food bank to provide food. Or, if you are an organic farm, partnering with a grocery store. Or, if you are a disability agency, partnering with a medical equipment company. Think in terms of goods and services ancillary to yours.
Sometimes instead of similar goals, government representatives may also promote causes complementary to yours. In addition, you may be able to find potential community supporters among those who benefit from government support for services complementary to yours. They may be particularly good advocates for you. Or they may spread the word about you.
People and Organizations with Similar Needs
Potential supporters who have similar needs that are satisfied through your nonprofit include clients, staff, and volunteers. Clients use your services and want to see them continue. Staff need paychecks to pay bills. Like vendors, staff are very interested in your continued financial success. As we talked about in Influencing the Conversation About You, staff make great community supporters, spreading the word about you to their connections. Volunteers may have similar needs too. For example, high school and college students may need community service credits. Or retired workers may need the socialization. Or maybe they want to meet and work with people with values similar to theirs.
People and organizations who join buying co-ops or discount membership groups are fulfilling their similar needs to save money. You may be able to tap into those groups as supporters for sharing ideas on decreasing costs further. Or, maybe you can approach them to develop deeper partnerships.
Organizations with Similar Markets
A great place to look for community support is the businesses community. The business community, like the economic developers, are interested in maintaining a healthy economy. Businesses also need visibility, which you may be able to provide through your staff, volunteer, donor, or advocacy base. You may also be able to help them connect with people in your network they want to meet, like wealthy individuals, industry regulators, or legislators. They may financially support you. And they may be turn out to be surprisingly strong advocates, depending on the issue. For more information about developing business partnerships, see our discussion Building Donor Relationships: Corporations.
Together everyone achieves more. We meet our goals by partnering with others. Potential partners are best approached by building on similar goals, complementary goals, similar needs, or similar markets. Each of these groups will have their own wants and needs. If you know what benefits you can offer that are important to them and have confirmed your perceptions, you are well on your way to asking your partners for robust community support.