A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Community Foundations: Balancing Community Needs and the New Donor Mindset

Your community foundation is working hard to get your donors involved and help them understand the importance of supporting not only their own favorite causes, but also the most pressing community needs identified by your team and board of directors.

You are also closely watching key trends in philanthropy:

  • Families want to be involved in philanthropy and philanthropic legacies are community treasures to be passed down through the generations.
  • Nonprofits in your community expect to see a benefit from the rising philanthropic investments in our society.
  • Donors want to be associated with philanthropic institutions that are committed to transparency, results, and data-driven strategies.

You want to maximize these trends to grow your mission. If you are like many community foundations, though, you are facing a challenge as you balance two seemingly competing factors:

  • Community needs. The needs in your community keep growing. Nonprofits’ requests are growing. This makes it even more important for you to grow your unrestricted funds and your own operating endowment.
  • New donor mindset. You are watching social impact grow as a priority in today’s culture, and you know philanthropy is an important part of your donors’ lives. Donors enjoy a wide range of social impact activities, including giving money to nonprofits, volunteering, serving on boards, purchasing products that support a cause, recycling and respecting a sustainable environment, celebrating at community events, and marketing favorite charities.

How can you navigate both community needs and the new donor mindset to achieve your foundation’s goals? It starts with a conversation with your team about your commitment to demonstrating impact. Consider adopting a set of principles to guide your donor communications. We love the example from a mid-sized community foundation as its team began working on the following set of overall commitments to their donors:

  • “We will be specific in our communications. You can expect to see meaningful statistics and stories of results about how, by working together, we are making a positive difference in real people’s lives.”
  • “We will be authentic. When you visit our website, receive our newsletters in the mail, attend our events, or read our social media posts, you’ll see and feel how much we care about improving the quality of life in our community.”
  • “We promise to keep in touch across all channels, from social media to our publications to meeting in person. We know your desire for transparency continues to grow as philanthropy becomes intertwined with work, life, and community.”

Adopting this type of approach helps affirm donors’ involvement with your foundation. Let them know you are aware that they are already doing good in the ways they love the most. With their hearts and minds open, your next opportunity is to educate them about ways they can deepen their social impact. Then, you can inspire donors through real stories of lives touched by social impact investments. Finally, you are ready to motivate your donors by describing specific, enjoyable steps they can take to make a difference, including getting involved with your leadership initiatives and considering investing in an unrestricted fund.

Through intentional steps like these, you will build trust because you create an authentic connection with your donors. The result is donor action and a greater likelihood that donors will get involved with your foundation’s priorities. Social impact is brought to life as you jumpstart donor engagement in community priorities and pave the way for building unrestricted funds and growing your own operating endowment.

Laura McKnight and Ann-Marie Harrington, partners in Embolden, are experts on social impact culture and the work-life-community-wellness continuum that is shaping the contemporary mindset. Embolden has built a track record as a leading digital communications and marketing firm specializing in high-growth sectors, such as financial services, philanthropy, and health care. Embolden’s client base has included more than 100 community foundations. 

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