Most nonprofits have a single, lofty goal that they’re relentlessly pursuing, whether it’s curing a disease or ending childhood hunger. While your ultimate goal is most likely why your supporters came to you in the first place, it can be difficult to keep up momentum when your lofty goal feels far away.
To keep supporters engaged on the long path toward your goal, there are several ways you can connect with your community through your nonprofit’s blog, email newsletters, social media, and other platforms. Complex problems have complicated solutions, but when you show how you’re delivering on your mission even before you reach the finish line, your supporters will be there with you every step of the way.
Create educational materials that get into the weeds of your work
If your organization is involved in hunger relief, for example, supporters probably already know that you provide food to communities in need. But they may be less aware of the logistical challenges involved in making connections in local communities or transporting food. Graphics, videos, and other storytelling approaches can help highlight the on-the-ground work your organization does as you move toward your goal. No Kid Hungry, for example, created videos that show each piece of the work they do toward their goal of ensuring no kid in the United States goes hungry, including offering school breakfast, summer meals, and food education programs. The videos show that their work goes far beyond simply providing food to children in need, and that the problem of hunger in the U.S. is complicated.
Get your supporters involved in the political process
One common block to progress for many organizations comes down to challenges with political legislation. Share opportunities for your community to get involved in the political process, from calling and writing to their representatives, to attending rallies in their area or in Washington, DC. When you first start a public policy program, include general guidance on what it looks like to be a political advocate, how to get started, and other basics to help your community get involved. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research, for example, has a toolkit on their website that details how to advocate for medical research from home or in local communities. Note: The IRS states, “A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.” Before sure to familiarize yourself with IRS restrictions on lobbying before launching a public policy program.
Connect your organization’s volunteer opportunities directly with your pain points
Volunteers want to feel like they’re making a real impact on your organization’s mission. When you share volunteer opportunities with your community, point out how they help alleviate challenges your work faces. For organizations that fund medical research, for example, a lack of clinical trial volunteers is one factor that significantly slows research progress. JDRF has information about volunteering for clinical trials on their website, along with a type 1 diabetes-specific search tool created by their partner, Antidote.
Design timelines that highlight how far you’ve come
The road to progress can feel long, but chances are, there have also been significant milestones along the way. A visual timeline, woven together with highlights from your organization’s history, can help put successes in context and make your goal feel less daunting to supporters. Everytown for Gun Safety does a nice job of combining in a timeline the organization’s founding and growth along with legislative victories toward their goal of greater gun control.
Ask for personal stories about how your nonprofit’s work has impacted your supporters
As a nonprofit communicator, you’re probably well aware of how impactful personal stories can be. One way to demonstrate the progress your organization has made is to share the story of someone who has been a part of your cause from the beginning and can offer perspective. If you’re looking for new voices to feature, consider asking your social media audience and email list to contribute. Supporters can share guest blog posts or video interviews that highlight how your nonprofit’s work has made their lives better, even if you haven’t yet reached your ultimate goal. Feeding America, for one, highlights stories from one group particularly impacted by food insecurity: single mothers. The blog series highlights one particular beneficiary of their programs and her complex challenges, showing the organization’s impact and challenges at the same time.
Do you have more suggestions on keeping your community engaged when progress feels slow? We would love to hear them in the comments.
Nancy Ryerson is a digital communicator with experience in content, marketing, and social media in the healthcare and nonprofit space. She currently writes for clinical researchers, nonprofits and patients at Antidote, a digital health startup that connects patients to research through an innovative clinical trial search tool. Prior to joining Antidote, she spent three years at The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, where she managed the Foundation’s community of 750,000+ followers, created content on living well with Parkinson’s, shared clinical trial opportunities, and supported fundraising campaigns.