Raising the Flag in Philanthropy: How to Get Your Issue Noticed and Bring Colleagues in to Collaborate with You

November 18, 2013

HEFN Director Karla Fortunato authored this blog post.

Once upon a time I was a health advocate, working hard to capture attention for my issues: uninsurance, tobacco use, and other public health issues.  That was my job – grabbing attention – and I learned how to do it: planning rallies, meeting with legislators, and thinking of new ways to get media attention for my issues. 

I often draw on lessons from that work to inform my work today at HEFN. Today, I bring you my 5 steps that will help you capture the attention of your philanthropic colleagues.

Step 1: Raise Your Flag.  Sometimes finding partners is as simple as letting people know what you’re interested in and that you’re seeking partners.  If you are interested in addressing the air quality in your town or state, you are probably not alone.  So, start hoisting: get involved with a relevant issue or regional affinity group or write about your issue for a philanthropic publication.

Once you have brought in your peers, you may still need more people.  This is where the work gets a bit harder.

Step 2: Charisma Counts.  Not everyone is naturally charismatic, but trust me, charisma counts.  Bloomberg has a guide for how you can hone your charismatic leadership.  Your issue may be an important one, but facts aren’t enough.  Create a narrative, an engaging story to put your facts in context.  Think Ted Talk.  Be thoughtful, succinct, and make people care.  And don’t forget…

Step 3: A Compelling Strategy.  A veteran grantmaker once told me that the best outreach tool is a compelling strategy and I’ve been parroting her words ever since.  Philanthropy is excited by new and compelling strategies.  There are so many grants to make and so little time that opportunities that appear strategic and innovative really do sparkle.  There are tools out there to support you, like Grantcraft’s nifty new website that compiles many of the technologies out there to help you develop your strategy.  So make your pitch sparkle with strategy too.

Step 4: Create Hero Opportunities.  This is a term Judy Meredith used years ago in her book, Lobbying on a Shoestring Budget.  I worked for Judy and this was one of mantras in her day-to-day work with NGOs.  She said that it was critical to create Hero Opportunities to champion legislators, like a photo op at a bill signing or an award at a local health center.  She believed that legislators yearned to make a difference and that by giving them these public cheers and accolades for their social change efforts, you would garner a more committed leader for your issue. 

This can work in philanthropy as well.  For example: You are funding a new project, and you’ve helped raise most of the budget, but it still needs $20,000 to launch.  This is a hero opportunity.  Give your colleagues the opportunity to be heroes.  It could help you garner their support this time, and maybe next time too.

Step 5: Fly the Flag of Success.  Highlighting successes, whether big or small, helps encourage more funders to see the value of an investment.  When these moments appear is when philanthropy has an opportunity to help its team cross the goal line. The flag must be raised higher to truly galvanize philanthropy’s potential to support significant social change. 

So, get to it.  Craft your strategy, hone your charisma, create opportunities, and get ready to raise that flag – and win!

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