Grant writing is an art form, and the more well-known an artist is or the better reputation that artist has, the better their artwork sells. It is the same with organizations. Nowadays, grantors and individual donors, too, have numerous ways to evaluate your organization. With the click of a button, a program officer at a local foundation has access to your 990, impact data, the services you offer, and more. Therefore, you must pay attention to your digital reputation. In this chapter, we will discuss some of the most common resources that grantors use to evaluate your organization.
Your social media accounts say a lot about your organization (or you personally) If you take the time to write a well-crafted grant, you also want to make sure to update your social media accounts. Outdated staff information on your website or an old version of your mission statement on your Facebook page or Instagram profile indicates that you aren’t paying attention to your public persona. Similarly, take the time to upload current pictures of exciting programs and accomplishments.
Guidestar.org is a nonprofit organization committed to increasing the transparency of the nonprofit sector and enabling donors to make more educated decisions. Guidestar’s website says it this way “For restaurants, there’s Yelp. For real estate, there’s Zillow. For law, there’s LexisNexis. For nonprofits, there’s GuideStar.” Guidestar uses IRS data to create a profile for each nonprofit. However, nonprofits can access and update their information as well.
As one of the longest-running and most comprehensive resources for nonprofit transparency, Guidestar is highly regarded and widely used by grantors. Paying close attention to the state of your Guidestar profile is free and therefore provides enormous bang for your buck.
There are a few things you can easily do with Guidestar to make your profile stand out. First of all, Guidestar gives each organization a “Seal of Transparency” rating that ranges from “No Rating” meaning your organization hasn’t added any data to “Platinum,” Guidestar’s highest rating. Simply adding data about your organization increases your score and makes your organization look more professional.
On your profile, you can update information in regards to your organizational leadership, programs, impact data, financials, and policies. The more you add, the better your Guidestar reputation.
Charity Navigator is similar to Guidestar. Its mission is to “make impactful philanthropy easier for all.” Charity Navigator was founded in 2001 and is, therefore, slightly younger than Guidestar; however, it still houses information on 1.8 million U.S charities.
Charity Navigator allocates a star rating on a scale of 1 to 4 stars with a 4-star rating as the highest accolade. One significant difference between Guidestar and Charity Navigator, however, is that organizations have less opportunity to update information on Charity Navigator. Instead, Charity Navigator awards stars solely based on two sources, an organization’s IRS 990 and from CharityTracker’s review of the organization’s website. Charity Navigator’s review is another reason to keep your website up to date.
Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is committed to creating trust between a for-profit entity and consumers. The BBB allows consumers to leave complaints regarding the business’s behavior. The BBB uses that complaint information, the result of the allegations, and other legal information to assign a letter grade to each company. Better Business Bureau ratings range from A+ to F.
The Better Business Bureau is well respected as a source for business transparency and is therefore used by grantors who are seeking objective information on for-profit applicants. While several factors go into a BBB rating, you can log-on and update your business information to increase your score.
Google Reviews are widely used by customers who are searching for the best business for their needs. Similarly, if you are a business looking for funding from a grantor, you can assume that they will pay attention to your Google reviews. You may feel like you have little control over your Google reviews, but that is not the case. Yes, upset customers have an easy avenue for their complaints using Google, but you can say a lot about your business practices with how you respond to those reviews.
Check your reviews regularly and respond to both the good reviews and the bad reviews in a professional manner. Thank those who leave you a positive review and offer a sincere word of apology to the customers who leave you negative reviews.
Lastly, be proactive! Ask your loyal customers to leave you a review. Remind them each time you email them, have your staff mention it at the counter. Customers are busy, so remind them often and make reviewing you easy. If all else fails, give a discount for customers who fill out a review.
This proactive approach works for nonprofit organizations too. Add requests for reviews in your email newsletters; individuals receiving your newsletter are likely your supporters and therefore are your best opportunities for positive reviews.
If you are an individual seeking a grant you should also pay attention to your reputation. LinkedIn is a commonly used tool by employers and grantors as well as other individuals seeking to network. Take some time to set-up or review your LinkedIn profile and make sure that your information is relevant and professional. Consider updating your skills to match the purpose of your funding project.
Industry Specific Sites
Consider your sector; are there sites used by individuals in your field? For instance, Psychologytoday.com for counselling professionals or consultant directories like Upwork.com. Anytime you are listed in a professional profile it is smart to make sure that your reviews and information paint in a positive light.
If you are unaware of what sites exist for your niche sector try asking other professionals or researching on-line. If you aren’t listed on an industry-specific site that might cause red flags for a grantor as well so it is wise to know what is out there as well as ensuring your information is positive.
If you apply to a grantor as an individual, you will most likely be asked to provide references. References help grantors determine whether you represent yourself honestly. Luckily for you, you get to choose who will be your references. To help you pick the best person to offer a recommendation, here are some tips:
The person who may be the most impressive reference may not be your best choice. Make sure to balance prestige with the depth of your relationship. Yes, you may have had an email exchange with a high-profile person, but if that person can’t or won’t speak to your character positively and in-depth, then they are not the best choice. You don’t want a reference letter that says, “Jane Smith sent me a perfunctory email once.”
Conversely, just because you know someone well does not mean that they would make an excellent reference. My Dad may write me an incredibly positive recommendation letter, but he isn’t exactly objective. Consider the grantor or the purpose of your grant when choosing references. If you are seeking scholarship funds for an Agriculture Science program, you may want to choose someone you are close with who may also be a scientist or a farmer.
Always ask permission to use someone as a reference. The last thing you want is for a referral to receive a call or an email from a grantor and for their reaction to being one of surprises. Make sure that your potential reference expects to be contacted and is willing to serve in that role for you.
Word of Mouth
While not a digital form of reputation, your word of mouth reputation is equally influential on funders; if you received grants in the past, then you left an impression on that funder. How they talk about you to other grantors may make or break your chances of receiving additional grant awards.
It is essential to pay close attention to your relationship with funders so that you leave a good impression. Be intentional about building relationships of respect and trust by being prepared for meetings, delivering on your stated promises, and stewarding grant funds appropriately. Timely grant reports will help you indicate your trustworthiness further.
Similarly, your reputation will precede you by the way you treat clients and volunteers. Your customer service tells a lot about your business; likewise, nonprofits have a culture that clients pick up on through interactions and that culture can be one of respect or disdain and condescension. Individuals seeking funds will bring with them the impression of their peers. For instance, if you are a musician applying for an art fellowship through a foundation but the local artist community knows you for showing up late and missing gigs, then it is likely that the funder will hear about that behavioural characteristic from someone.
Your word of mouth reputation is unlike a digital reputation in that it isn’t data-based, like Google reviews, or even necessarily verifiable like Charity Navigator or Guidestar. Do you best to maintain a positive reputation by treating others with respect and operating your organization or project with poise.
Online Reputation Management Tools
Did someone leave you a negative review that you don’t know how to handle? Are you worried it is going to reflect poorly on your organization while trying to secure grant funds? Or maybe you want more help establishing positive reviews. If you are looking for more advice regarding managing your digital reputation, then some companies exist for this exact reason.
Companies like BirdEye, Podium, Yext, and Swell Cx offer services, including review generation, review monitoring, and response management. The software comparison website, Capterra, rates BirdEye the highest with 265 5-star reviews, which speaks highly of a company whose focus is generating and maintaining positive reviews.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these tools cost money and may be cost-prohibitive for your organization depending on size. So, if you can handle your review management on your own, then you may not want to purchase a subscription. Although, it is good to know that if you require these tools that they are available.
Grantors have numerous tools at their disposal that they can use to get a feel for your reputation. The tools listed above represent a few of the most common. It doesn’t cost anything to manage your reputation with these websites and references. The only thing you will need is a little foresight and some time.
Make it part of your routine to periodically check in on your online reputation so that when a grantor looks into your organization, they aren’t turned away by an outdated website, negative Google review, or neglected Guidestar profile. Also, make sure that if you are asked to provide references that you choose individuals who will represent you well.
These reputations leave a lasting and significant impact on your ability to receive funds. So much of the grant-awarding process relies on a funder’s ability to trust the applicant. Therefore, you must pay attention to the impression that you leave on stakeholders, volunteers, and clients, not only to receive funds but to be successful in projects.