Most of us who have worked in the nonprofit world, and especially in the grant writing space, for any amount of time know the value of being able to write well. Every day we work on proposals, case statements, letters, and written pieces to pair with our proposals that help us to better showcase our projects, programs, and the impact our organizations make. And if we work hard at our craft we are able to bring in funding that, along with other income sources, is the lifeblood of the organization – making everything that it does possible.
But grant writing and funding do not exist in a vacuum. As with most things, nonprofit funding exists in an ecosystem or web where one thing affects and interacts with everything else. Nonprofit websites are like that, too. And when they are done well, grant writing and websites can actually be incredibly powerful tools that can and should go hand in hand to help you tell your nonprofit’s story and bring in more funding to help you serve more people with more programs, projects, and services.
Below are some of my best tips for syncing up your grant writing and web development efforts:
TIP 1: DON’T MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WEBSITE AN AFTERTHOUGHT
Perhaps the first and most important step you will have to take is making sure that your nonprofit website is up to snuff. Maybe your website is new and shiny and if it is, that’s fantastic. But for many nonprofits, especially those who function on a shoestring budget and with a small (but mighty) staff, your website may have sat languishing unloved in cyberspace for months or years without being updated. Or maybe you never had one at all.
If that’s the case, then it’s time you put one in place. It doesn’t have to have every bell and whistle or cost a million dollars but whether you’re starting from scratch or you’re updating an existing site there are a few basic items and to-do tasks you’ll want to make sure you have in place so that your website is functional, appealing, and ready to serve your needs and those of your intended audiences (including grantmakers):
- It needs to be built on a platform that you or someone on your staff can update yourselves easily and quickly and one that is scalable as your organization and website grow (I recommend WordPress).
- It needs to be visually appealing and hopefully incorporate branding into the design of the site itself.
- The website should be accessible. Remember that some people visiting your website may be doing so while using devices to assist them with hearing, vision, or other impairments that change the way they interact with website elements. (There’s a really good website accessibility checklist you can download here.)
- It should include current information. And remember that once you’ve written that information, it cannot stay static. A website is essentially a living document and it should change as your organization and its programs change. Did you hire a new staff member? Then your staff listing should change on your website. Did the structure of your largest education program change? Then your description of it should change on your website, too. You get the point.
- Set up a schedule to make regular updates to the website.
- Websites are marketing tools, not academic articles. So don’t write them as if they are your graduate school dissertation that also required a 10-page bibliography and incidentally put a room full of people to sleep. That project may have been thorough but it was probably also a little dry and that’s not what you want when you’re writing copy for a nonprofit website (surprise – it’s also not what you want when you’re writing for most grant proposals, either). Your website copy should be light, conversational, easy to read, and maybe even a little fun to read.
- Less is more. You don’t need to fill up every bit of free space you have. Seriously. (The same is true with character and word counts in grant proposals.)
- Sometimes pictures, graphics, and videos are more powerful than words (and often that is just as true inside of grant proposals as it is inside of websites on the occasions when grant applications will allow you to use them).
You may be thinking that these are good tips for creating and maintaining a website but what does that have to do with best practices for grant writing? It actually has a lot to do with it. And as an entry point to why it matters, let’s start here: remember that the vast majority of the time your funders and grant reviewers will visit your website. When they do, you want to make a good impression. That’s why the “to-do” list above is important and why the remaining tips below for aligning your grants and website will pay dividends.
TIP 2: MAKE SURE ALL YOUR MEDIA TELL THE SAME STORY
You’ve probably been on a job interview and as part of that process you not only updated your resume but you made sure that your social media profiles were either rated PG or set to private. Maybe you did some Google searches for your name to see what potential employers would find if they plugged you into the search bar. All of that is a smart idea when you are in the job market. It’s an equally smart idea when you’re in the market for a grant. Because again – funders will check you out on the world wide web.
They will look at your website. They will look at your organization’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media pages. They are doing this for three important reasons:
- They want to see if you walk the walk
- They want to see if your values align with theirs
- They want to see if you will make a good partner
Here’s the thing: grant proposals are like job applications. You are putting your best foot forward. You are showing them all of your best assets and attributes to hopefully get the award. But a funder knows that there’s more to your organization than that, just as they know there is more to a job seeker than the application, resume, and cover letter that they receive (that’s why most of them check references and conduct interviews).
So what do funders do? They check your website and your social presence and what they are really looking for is cohesion. They want to see that what you said in your proposal is what you say everywhere and that the evidence of your work you show to the world every day in your social posts, your blog posts, your videos, and on your website is the same as in the narrative and goals you included in your grant proposal. This is proof positive that you will be a good partner, that your organization is living up to its stated values which align with the funder’s values, and that the funder can count on you to make an impact with their dollars.
See? And they got all that through a website!
TIP 3: INCLUDE FUNDABLE CONTENT ON THE WEBSITE
Most of us grant writers are very familiar with restrictive word and character counts and the time-consuming process of whittling down our cherished paragraphs so they still convey our meaning in tightly worded little bundles. Here’s another place where nonprofit websites can be a grant writer’s best friend.
If you continue to think of websites as a marketing tool, then they should contain fantastic information about all your programs, projects, events, services, and those you serve. They should have videos, graphics, photos, and visuals that help you explain the impact of what your organization does without the hindrance of character counts (though this does not mean you should write 20 pages just because you can, either).
Use this to your advantage.
In grant proposals, you can often include links or direct reviewers to additional materials on your website where they can review other sources that will help them to better understand the program or project you’re proposing. Team up with the person who manages your website to determine how to best highlight the programs and services your organization offers. Consider how you can make these sections of your website easy to read and understand for grant reviewers – much like you would do if creating a brochure.
TIP 4: RECOGNIZE YOUR FUNDERS
It’s always a good idea to thank those who give you a gift. Many grant professionals are used to sending out handwritten notes to funders, making personal calls to thank their contacts for awards, and making other little points of contact throughout the year. But what about other forms of recognition? Sure, some recognition requirements may be spelled out in the grant agreement. But what about when it isn’t so clear cut?
I always recommend having a page or a section of your website dedicated to thanking grant funders, no matter how small the award. This can be done easily and does not have to take up a ton of space if you use a slider or carousel-style element to move through funder logos. This way you can display their logos, thank them for their contribution, and they will know immediately that they are appreciated for the impact. I also recommend automatically creating ‘thank you’ posts for funders on whatever social media platforms you maintain.
These four tips will help you get started on the path to syncing your grant writing and website efforts so that they work together. In an increasingly digital world it is so important that we recognize that we often cannot do things the way they’ve always been done. Our work cannot remain analog. It, and our nonprofit world, has to move into more technological waters so that we can stay competitive and continue to help more people.
Thankfully, in the case of grant writing and websites, the pairing is not as awkward as it may seem at first. In fact, the two are rooted firmly in being able to communicate well. And since that’s what many nonprofit pros do best, I know you are going to be fantastic at it.
- Grants & websites: A marriage made in nonprofit heaven - June 13, 2021