When people want to know more about your nonprofit, who do they talk to? Who serves as a reference? How can you help ensure your references speak knowledgeably and with specifics?
Don’t take your references for granted. Take time to talk with those you ask to serve as a reference. Ask if it is okay to use their name for a specific project or proposal. Permission is important, and references want to know when they may be contacted.
It is common for a funder to request three references. We suggest selecting people who will each say something distinct from the other. What are the three things you want a prospective funder to know about your nonprofit? Do they include organizational management, uniqueness, impact or track record and experience with collaboration.
When selecting references, ask yourself these questions: does this person really know the organization. Do they have a profile that a grant maker will take notice of? Are they known as honest and credible?
Consider asking someone who uses your services, has benefited from your advocacy, or is a volunteer or donor. The person to stay away from is the one who says “Just write it for me and I’ll sign my name.” Of course you should provide each reference with materials to draw from, but you want someone who can ultimately use their own words.
Here are three examples. Which would you prefer to be said about your nonprofit?
1. They’re good people. They’ve been around a long time. I know some of the board members. I know some of the people they serve. I’ve attended some of their events. I get their materials all the time. I served on their board a few years back. My employees served as volunteers at one time. I see them in the paper now and then.
2. It’s a well managed organization. They have a very engaged board. They are visible in the community, especially their staff. Volunteers are excited to participate. Their special events are informative and meaningful. The work they do makes a difference in the quality of life for this community. It’s a diverse organization. I feel that my donation means something to the bottom line.
3. What they do is so unique. There is no other organization engaging young people in the way that they do. They think through their programming and collaborate with other organizations. I like the way they engage neighborhood teenagers to help with outreach and mentoring. The management team is engaged and has been in place for the past three years. They are proactive and have a reserve fund. My phone calls are quickly returned. I’m involved with their fundraising: there are 10 donors I stay connected with: I update them each year on the work of the organization and always ask for their annual gift.
Your brand is how people know you, what they say about you, and what they think about you. Check your references!
Copyright 2017 – Mel and Pearl Shaw
Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on Amazon.com. For help growing your fundraising visit www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.
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