By Claire Fisher
Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
As a kid, I always wanted my career to be one that helps people. Whether I wanted to be a teacher, nurse or even an event-planner, I wanted a job to have a real impact and know that I was helping someone’s life. That’s why I was immediately drawn as a freshman to St. Bonaventure University’s newest major: Communications, Social Justice & Advocacy.
The future is still foggy – as it is for most college students – but I know I want to gain skills to help others. I’m thankful I was offered this nonprofit communications internship with Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC, a strat-comm agency owned and operated by award-winning journalist Kelsey Boudin, a 2012 Bona J/MC graduate.
I find this work so fulfilling. It’s a perfect example of what I can do in the real world to help people. Even the little things help on the nonprofit communications side of things for STCS: researching grant funders, analyzing community needs data, writing outreach letters, and hopefully someday soon writing full grant proposals.
Some Early Nonprofit Communications Insights From My STCS Internship
Here are some fresh insights from doing real work to benefit client nonprofits at this internship.
1. Real Work for Real Community Impact
One important lesson that has stuck with me is to remember how real our work is for people. Nonprofits serve community missions. Grant funders, donors and other charitable causes support nonprofits in serving those missions.
As a nonprofit leader, you’re probably thinking, “Of course, my work is real. I do it every day.” Which is true! And we’re proud of you for it! For the people and systems your nonprofit serves, your efforts likely go far above and beyond the 9-to-5. It’s easy for me as a student intern to go through assignments, case studies and worksheets quickly because I can “just get it done.” It’s so fulfilling, giving my time to handle all this for clients while balancing school work and maintaining my GPA.
When I got this internship, it all suddenly felt real. This is what my classes had been preparing me for. I’ve been researching grant opportunities and writing donor-outreach letters for a STCS client nonprofit. In doing this, I’ve researched the client, its founding, its mission and vision, and its service methodology. (This client is a terrific organization that provides education and advocacy for persons living with dementia.) I’ve then highlighted numerous grantmakers whose priorities align with theirs.
While for me, this research amounts to a few hours of my week, it’s a life mission for this organization’s operating founders. It’s their passion project and their truest joy in life. Whatever writing, research and organizing we do in a nonprofit fundraising strategy must be done intentionally and with care. The mission is bigger than any one person, and it deserves our full attention and respect.
2. Building Perseverance
When I was first assigned to research potential funders for this client, I was immediately discouraged when I didn’t find a plethora of options on the very first page of search results in GrantStation (where we often begin our funder research). Even after more time had passed, I still wasn’t finding much. It takes a lot of time to weed out opportunities that don’t apply to your nonprofit organization.
Then I found one. Then another. And another. Until I had many options to present to support our contract grant-writing pursuits on the client’s behalf.
It’s important to not get too frustrated or upset when the going is slow. It’s better to take the time to find options that can really help your nonprofit mission than applying for the sake of applying to opportunities that may not actually work. Keep looking! There are perfect match funding opportunities out there just begging to be found.
3. Mission First Mindset
Working with nonprofits requires a mission-first mindset. Even nonprofits with similar missions may have different ways of operating, philosophies, priorities, etc. Remembering these is especially important when it comes to picking grants to apply for. You want to make sure that the organization(s) offering that money and support are truly aligned with your mission.
While researching for this particular nonprofit grant-writing client, I ensure the potential grant funders presented have missions and priorities serving aging individuals and public health, while honoring our global caregivers. You have ZERO chance at winning funding if the funder does not share your organization’s mission and core values.
So keep digging to serve that mission first. There are great fits to serve every need. Find them. Build relationships with them.
4. Avoiding the Comfort Zone
Sometimes I have to talk myself into going beyond my comfort zone. It can be very easy to stick to one grant database, writing style or information source. As the weeks go on, I try to push myself to seek new, untapped resources.
Here at Southern Tier Communications Strategies, we’re always turning over new stones. I learned this quickly. The philosophy is simple: why keep turning over the same stones when we already know what’s under them?
Things that are comfortable are that way for a reason. They are proven good access points. But there may be so many other sources that work just as well, if not better. If it fits with your mission, I attempt to go beyond what I already know. If your organization has a distinct voice and message, I explore what new voices and messaging may do to support your values in a new way. (And that means grant reviewers will see your message in a new way, too!)
Nonprofit Communications to Serve Missions & Help People
It’s all for community impact. That’s the common denominator that makes the hours of grunt work doing research so rewarding. After combing through grant watches and reports, only to find five applicable options, sometimes I find myself wondering how that’s helpful. If I had only found five sources after hours, what good did I do for someone?
But think about the hundreds of funding options that were ELIMINATED from the list. We will NOT pursue those funders because we now know they AREN’T a good fit. Think of the time and resources saved NOT applying to grant processes that are doomed to fail. No matter what your outcome is after a day of work, these little efforts add up to make a difference.
This internship has already taught me so much, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the intricacies of grant writing and other nonprofit communications. For me, the most important part of this has been the attitude I’m putting into it. If you’re putting your best efforts and intentions into your project, whatever you create will always be helpful in some way!