Reputations matter. There are so many examples found all around us:
You only get one chance to make a good first impression
The 30-second pitch - a high-level overview to instantly communicate your organization's value
“Who do you know that are subject matter experts in <INSERT HERE>?”
People use these concepts to establish or build reputations and be known as the best in their field. Managing your reputation as a non-profit is similar. Having an excellent reputation in the community involves making a good initial impression and consistently driving results so your organization is known for whatever work your organization does. For example, if your work supports people experiencing homelessness in Detroit, Michigan, whenever anyone thinks of this work, your organization should be the first organization to come to mind.
Establishing a reputation in the community does take a lot of work. It takes a long time and a variety of coordinated activities to make it happen. It can also be easily lost, so managing reputational risk is key.
Potential Reputation Building Activities
Powerhouse marketing and superior branding - your public appearance and website should be high quality, professional, and engaging.
Network and build relationships in the community- people give to people, and opportunities are shared through people.
Be a good partner and stakeholder - play nice in the sandbox with competing and non-competing organizations.
Get involved in city-wide collaboratives, especially those that include public and private partners or other groups seeking to positively impact the community
Consistently performing well, documenting results, and communicating your community impact- this can be done via your annual report, strategy papers, or other communication methods through your organization or a third party.
Why is this important to funders?
Funders will often ask about the major players doing impactful work in the community
Establishing a good reputation can help overcome engaging with funders not accepting unsolicited applications - funders may reach out to you first
Deploying branding and marketing activities helps create awareness of your organization so when a funder receives an application from your organization, it will not be the first time the funder has heard of your organization
In summary, there are a variety of ways you can build a reputation in the community. Find a way to build your reputation in the community that aligns with your organization's capacity and strengths. In time, funders will hear about the great work you are doing (through the grapevine) and will sometimes reach out to connect with you to learn more, or will be more receptive to a conversation from your outreach.