Making a case for your organization through the power of language.
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Posting cute pictures of our foster dogs to Facebook is a great way to spread awareness about the rescue.

Posting cute pictures of our foster dogs to Facebook is a great way to spread awareness about the rescue.

The other day, I was talking with a young friend who I tutor after school. In a moment of honesty, she confessed to me that she often fails to complete her homework because she can’t pull herself away from Facebook, You Tube and other all-too-available online distractions.

It was hard for me to offer advice, because I too spend too much time online – just like almost everyone I know! I periodically entertain a lengthy internal monologue about the value of social media websites, and the time I spend using them. Usually, I am left feeling guilty and lazy, and resolve to limit my time online to checking emails and doing research for work. And maybe one visit to Facebook a day…

Thankfully, not all uses of social media are purely self-indulgent, and not all time spent browsing around online is wasted! If your New Year’s Resolution is to be more purposeful with your time online, please read further.

The following is a list of easy things everyone can do to help the nonprofits they care about – all without leaving the comfort of your computer!

1.)  “Like” your favorite nonprofit’s Facebook page

The more people an organization reaches regularly, the more attractive it is to funders. Facebook provides a quick snapshot of an organization’s reach, and its numbers are relatively trustworthy, in that they are not easily feigned or exaggerated.  Many applications for grants and sponsorships even require applicants to list how many Facebook friends they have.

A nonprofit boasting 2,500 Facebook followers is better positioned to receive funding than a similar nonprofit with only 300. When strong applicants are up against one another, number of Facebook followers can be a deciding factor in which one gets the grant.

A word of caution: Be judicious when “liking” the pages of nonprofits and charities. With lots of Facebook friends involved in lots of causes, we get dozens of requests to “like” pages. Keep in mind that Facebook followers sometimes do play a role in determining who gets grants. If you don’t believe in the mission, you can quietly decline to “like” a page. Learn more about how nonprofits use Facebook.

2.)  Explore your nonprofit’s website

Just like Facebook friends, web traffic is another metric that foundations and corporations use to gauge organizational reach. Google Analytics makes information about web traffic readily available, and most nonprofits track this information for use in grants and sponsorship proposals.

Visiting a nonprofit's website is one way of showing your support.

Visiting a nonprofit’s website is one way of showing your support.

Corporate funders are especially interested in how many unique visitors are perusing the sites of their beneficiaries. In exchange for financial support, nonprofits provide sponsors with exposure and publicity. This usually includes acknowledgement on the organization’s website, with links to the sponsoring company’s site.

If you think an organization’s mission is particularly compelling, take a moment to browse its site. Click through the different pages, and read up on the latest news. You will learn more about the organization, and boost its numbers for unique visitors and pages visits.

And, if you really want to help the organization maintain good standing with corporate sponsors, click through to the sponsoring company’s website! The company will see that the nonprofit is driving users to its site, and appreciate the marketing value of the sponsorship.

3.) Join the e-mail list 

Mailing lists are another important way to offer marketing value to sponsors, and most sponsorship agreements involve recognition in email blasts and e-newsletters.

For instance, if Bank ABC provides support for a concert, all related emails are likely to include the language “Presented by Bank ABC”  or “Made possible by Bank ABC”, with a link to the company’s website.

Potential sponsors want to know how far this recognition will go, and almost always ask for the number of subscribers on a nonprofit’s mailing list. The more subscribers a nonprofit has, the more attractive its proposal is to potential funders.

Of course, I wouldn’t advise anyone to sign up for any and every nonprofit newsletter, which is one quick way to clutter up your inbox. But if there’s an organization that you really like, whose emails you don’t yet receive, you may want to consider joining the mailing list. It’s a quick and easy way to lend a hand.

4.) Take it a step further: join the conversation!

The Field Museum posts lots of cool facts about natural history and conservation on Facebook. Not to mention the great photos of exotic species!

Chicago’s Field Museum posts lots of cool facts about natural history and conservation on Facebook. Not to mention the great photos of exotic species!

Having lots of friends and followers doesn’t mean much if users aren’t engaged.

Many nonprofits have staff members dedicated solely to social media, whose job it is to get conversations started with the public. Take a few moments to respond to their posts, answer questions, or comment on a new photo. Use these public forums to express your support for the organization. Re-tweet and share information from your nonprofit, and ask friends to follow or subscribe. Tag your nonprofit in your status updates, and let friends know when you are attending an event, performance, volunteer opportunity or fundraiser.

When a nonprofit asks for feedback – whether its via an email survey, a Facebook post or an online forum – take a moment to respond. Your input matters! Nonprofit administrators are listening, and funders appreciate the evidence of community involvement.

The value of social media can only be as great as its ability to further our interests, ideals, and connections with the world around us. These sites are endless fountains of money for their creators – luckily, with minimal effort, we can use them to direct a little bit of money to nonprofits as well.

 

 

This afternoon in Lansing, a tremendous arts advocacy effort came full circle. 

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) announced $5,675,400 in funding for 312 grants to arts organizations throughout the state. Over 75% of applications received were funded, making for a lot of very grateful artists, performers, arts educators and nonprofit professionals — including yours truly!

What makes this cycle of grant awards so special, however, is that it represents the culmination of a very effective statewide advocacy effort. In 2009, the state budget for arts was slashed by 71%, leaving hundreds of MCACA grantees uncertain about the future of what was once a reliable annual source of funding. The maximum request amount for FY2010 grants was drastically reduced, and many grant writers (myself included) were left wondering if the application was even worth the trouble.

The tone of the Council meeting that year was somber. News of the drastic arts budget reduction came on the heels of the devastating recession, which had hit Michigan particularly hard and stripped many organizations of vital support from corporate sponsors.

Sensing our discouragement and hesitation, John Bracey, Executive Director of the MCACA, made a quiet, yet impassioned plea for us to submit our applications as usual. Doing so, he explained, would be a crucial demonstration of the need for state funding, and a statement of our commitment to bringing it back.

Those of us in the room understood that our very livelihood was on the line.

Throughout history, governments across the world have invested in the art of their people. Seeing the state’s mark of approval on promotional materials, contributor lists and financial statements gives donors a sense of security in supporting the arts. Even the biggest opponent of government spending is likely to be unconsciously validated, when he or she makes a contribution to the arts, by the knowledge that the state also deems this a worthy cause.

In Lansing that day, we understood that the potential elimination of the MCACA could mean the loss of our jobs, and the degradation of our treasured cultural sector. Teetering on the edge of financial ruin, our sponsors were pulling away, and so was our government. Who would be left to set an example for individual philanthropists?

What began that day was a cohesive, comprehensive advocacy movement. It began with submitting our MCACA applications, and continued with countless phone calls, emails and letters to legislators. We circulated evidence of the need for strong arts organizations in Michigan, and told our own stories of how the arts have supported us and our families.

Most importantly, we documented hard evidence of the fact that every dollar that goes into the arts sector is leveraged to drive at least $51 back into Michigan’s economy. By using the tools available to us through the Michigan Cultural Data Project, 211 arts organizations documented the economic impact of their existence. The financial data collected from these organizations revealed compelling facts such as the following:

  • In 2009, the group of organizations represented in the Creative State Michigan report contributed nearly half a billion dollars to the state’s economy through expenditures alone.
  • That same year, the sector paid $152 million in salaries for 15,560 jobs.
  • In 2010, arts and culture accounted for $2.1 billion, or more than 17%, of Michigan’s total tourism spending – more than golf, skiing, hunting/fishing, boating and sporting events combined.

Even staunch fiscal conservatives, like Governor Rick Snyder, couldn’t argue with these numbers. For years, our organizations had been touting the social, educational and emotional benefits of the arts, which to us are the most compelling reasons for our sector’s existence. Our touchy-feely elevator speeches weren’t doing it for our state’s new administration, though; we had to reach out to them in terms they could relate to. In this case, those terms were numbers.

Lansing heard us, and earlier this year, we learned that the 2013 budget for MCACA would be more than double what it was in FY2010. Maximum grant requests were increased, and we wrote our applications with renewed hope and enthusiasm. I wrote MCACA applications for two clients this year: Rackham Symphony Choir and the Scarab Club. Both organizations received grants more than twice the size of their FY2012 awards.

So, as a beneficiary of the cultural sector of Michigan, I want to say thank you to all of my colleagues. Thank you for taking the time to fill out the Cultural Data Project forms, for talking to your legislators, and for faithfully applying the MCACA when it seemed like a lost cause.

And thank you, most of all, to John Bracey and the staff and members of the MCACA. Your commitment inspired us to action, and now the organizations we love are reaping the benefits.