The Importance of Good Communication with Donors and Stakeholders
StartingUpGood works with early-stage, high social impact startups and their leaders. We recently partnered with social impact consulting firm Changing Our World to provide seed grants and fundraising, strategy and communications consulting services to five women social entrepreneurs in Atlanta.
As part of this effort to help build organizational capacity and fill a gap in support, we identified a common need for size-appropriate and implementable strategies for effective communications. We asked one of the nonprofit leaders we worked with — Kristina Smith-Newton, founder and CEO of Hope for Youth (HYPE), Inc. — to share her thoughts on best practices, lessons-learned, and advice for nonprofits big and small.
This article covers a conversation with Kristina and communications expert Elyse Hammett, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA), on the importance of transparency and good communications with donors and potential donors.
This post covers the 8th session from Changing Our World’s Atlanta Forging Forward Conference Series focused on idea sharing, innovative solutions and a path forward within the Atlanta community.
Elyse Hammett, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA)
- Elyse leads brand communication efforts spanning national media, impactful events, digital web and more for CFGA, working to grow its now billion+ dollar endowment. CFGA recently announced a 5-year strategy — Together ATL — focused on increasing equity and shared prosperity for all throughout Atlanta.
- Prior to joining CFGA in 2015, Elyse worked at Emory Healthcare, where she helped imagine and transform their brands. She has won numerous awards from the American Hospital Marketing Association, the Public Relations Society of America, and the National Telecom Marketing Association. She co-chairs the Accreditation Committee of the Public Relations Society of America’s Board after serving as the Georgia chapter president in 2017, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Junior League of Atlanta. And, she holds various board level responsibilities for associations focused on education for communicators serving communities.
Kristina Smith-Newton, Founder and CEO, Hope for Youth (HYPE), Inc.
- Kristina is a passionate advocate for diversity in tech, a social impact entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of Hope for Youth (HYPE), Inc. — an Atlanta-based nonprofit that empowers Girls of Color to explore their “tech identity” and addresses the root barriers to participation, interest, and retention of Women of Color in the tech industry. After earning a BS in computer engineering from Prairie View A&M University and subsequently working in tech for years, Kristina founded HYPE in 2017 in response to the lack of representation and community in the tech industry.
- Her portfolio of work includes organizations such as Girls Who Code, Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative, the Atlanta Bridge Community founded by Coca Cola, and American Explorers Westside Ambassadors Program. She was a 2018–19 Center for Civic Innovation Fellow and is currently a member of the Atlanta Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative cohort, as well as a recent finalist for Women in Tech’s “Women of the Year in STEAM Education”.
Transparent communications increase donor engagement. The culture around fundraising has shifted — donors and potential donors today want more updates and information, provided in more concise formats, and to see clearly the impact of their dollars (or potential dollars).
- When CFGA launched its COVID relief fund in partnership with the United Way, it moved from traditional methods of communicating with donors and nonprofits separately to offering one communication relevant to both audiences. This emphasized that donors and nonprofits were working toward the same goal of helping Atlanta get through the pandemic. The transparency created a better sense of community and helped CFGA raise money.
- For HYPE, a provider of in-person coding classes, it became crucial for the organization to share with donors and supporters the ways in which it was adapting to a virtual world, and to position HYPE as a resource to schools and students during the switch to remote learning.
Make communications the right kind of priority for the size and season of your organization. Nonprofits are all different sizes, with varying resources, and all have different goals. When thinking through a communications strategy for your organization, don’t try to mimic what other organizations are doing. Rather, think through your organization’s biggest priorities and make sure your communications reflect them. And, recognizing resources are often limited, always choose purpose over task — it matters less whether the newsletter goes out the first Thursday of every month, for example, and more that the newsletter has authentic content that engages donors and potential donors.
- When Kristina founded HYPE in 2017, she was a team of one. Her communications were a quarterly newsletter to supporters, focused mainly on one program offering. As the organization has grown, the team now sends monthly newsletters which cover all HYPE programs and include testimonials from students, leverages multiple social media channels, and creates a communications calendar each quarter to help prioritize.
Take time to be thoughtful about your social media. Social media can be one of your most effective communications tools, but like all communications, it takes planning and strategy to best serve your organization. With every post, think about how the content you share fits into your organization’s overall plan.
- Both HYPE and CFGA use social media calendars to keep their content — what to post and when — organized and to establish a regular cadence for both their staff and external audiences. Download this template editorial calendar from CFGA to get started.
Tailor your social media content to the appropriate audiences. Social media is ever-changing, so there is no “one size fits all” solution. It requires work to keep your content fresh and relevant.
- HYPE, for instance, uses its social media to engage donors and prospects, but also as a recruitment tool to engage more HYPE scholars. HYPE realized that Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok — not Facebook — were the more popular platforms among the student age group. So HYPE began tailoring its Facebook content to adults, parents, and working moms while sharing student-centric content on Instagram and Twitter. It reserved Tik Tok for its student ambassadors — girls currently in the program — as a way to incorporate the student voice into its communications.
- For CFGA, its nonprofits connect with the organization via Facebook, while LinkedIn is a better tool for prospects who often come through stockbrokers and/or professional advisors. So, tailoring content to the tone of these varying platforms and the intended audience for each is important.
Proper planning prevents poor performance. Planning ahead is pivotal for running effective communications within an organization. For fundraising events, leave yourself more time than you think you need to plan, and think through how you can best leverage your resources, like social media, to make events (in-person or virtual) successful.
- Two weeks prior to HYPE’s 2021 fundraising event, they started posting about the event’s raffle prizes on social media as incentive for people to purchase a ticket, reaching viewers who may not know about HYPE but are interested in the prizes. They also created customized social media graphics for female tech professionals who were joining the event, and provided boilerplate language, so that these women could post to their own networks before and after the event. And, they created a follow-up email template before the event so that it was ready to be sent out the day after to anyone who registered.
- At CFGA, they repurpose all donor communications for potential donors, e.g., if there is a virtual event for donors to hear about a specific topic, CFGA will record that event and then make a short recap promotional video for social media to show potential donors what it’s like to be part of the Community Foundation family. With every single content deliverable created for donors, CFGA thinks: how can we use this in a way that would engage prospective donors as well?
The content means more than the packaging. The past two years have caused us to rethink the way we do things, across all departments, sectors, and in our day to day. For communications, take this time to reflect on your strategies to date. Identify what has been most impactful, and scrap the rest! For example, you may find that a 6-page annual report is more digestible and effective than a 60-page annual report, as it is more likely to be read in full and not overwhelm the reader.
Want to know more?
We highly encourage nonprofits to listen to the full recording, linked above, to hear more examples and insights from Elyse (CFGA) and Kristina (HYPE).
For more Atlanta Forging Forward coverage, visit our Medium page here and be on the lookout for our next Atlanta Forging Forward discussion.
Brady Press is a Director at Changing Our World, where she specializes in building strategic corporate citizenship programs. She is a consultant to SDGCounting and StartingUpGood.