May 9, 2017

Fact: we are living in the social media era.

Whether the question is how to engage with your supporters, raise the visibility of your programs, market your event, or bring in new donors, more and more data seems to suggest that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are at least a piece of the solution. But what does the role of social media look like for your grants program?

While we at Elevate love our long, detailed how-to posts, the topic of social media and its role in the grant writing process requires much less space. The short answer – which we want to be unequivocal about – is that social media outreach is not a part of your grants program. It is not a part of your cultivation strategy. It is not part of your grant writer’s job description.

Let’s dig into this a bit further.

To be clear, here are a few things we are not saying:

1. We aren’t saying social media is a waste of time.

And for that matter, we’re not saying that social media shouldn’t be part of your broader development program. Targeted engagement on the right social platforms could be very effective strategies for engaging with individual donors or volunteers, or simply communicating with the general public. But while those efforts are certainly related to development, we do not want to suggest that they deserve a place in your grant strategy.

2. We aren’t saying that you can’t have a development associate who does your grant writing and your social media.

However, keep in mind that if you are hiring a grant writer and you want to really maximize that person’s time spent on your grants program, any dedicated time spent away from grant writing and instead on social media is likely diluting the strength of your grants program.

3. We aren’t saying there’s no value in engaging with funders on social media.

Connecting with the right people and organizations online can actually be a great source of information about prospective funders, their deadlines, their giving priorities, etc. Moreover, if you’ve found success through tweeting at program officers, we’re not about to stop or discourage you. (We’ve seen crazier things work!) But again, this should not be where you’re focusing the bulk – or even a significant portion – of your attention.

As you can see, we’re not about to deny the potential benefits of leveraging social media as a means of communicating with the public, gathering information, or even engaging with stakeholders. However, if you’re routinely spending time, energy, and/or money trying to fold social media into your grants strategy – to that we say, no. Stop. Because not only will it fail to result in more grant funding, but your resources are also better spent elsewhere.

Rather than inadvertently wasting valuable time and energy on a social media strategy that will likely have limited ROI for your grants program, we strongly believe that you’d be better off investing that same time and energy in the kinds of activities and programmatic enhancements that are proven to compel funders and ultimately win you money – things like program design, strong outcomes, and meaningful cultivation.

In other words, social media should be, at most, a strategic supplement to a substantial grant strategy, to the extent that is feasible for your organization without compromising the quality of your grants.

A few ideas of social media tactics that are worthwhile:

  • Tweet and/or post on Facebook about your work, to highlight your programmatic successes.
  • Share photos of your staff and programs in action.
  • Publicly thank funders whenever you have an opportunity.
  • Follow funders and engage with any relevant content, including though the use of likes and retweets.
  • Participate in any Q&As, Twitter chats, etc. your funders host on social platforms.

Throughout Elevate’s blog, we like to hammer home the key idea that funders care about substance – and the role of social media in your grants program is no exception. It’s our position that the substance of your proposals and your programs are paramount, and more deserving of your time and energy when it comes to your grant strategy. If you still feel strongly about spending time and energy on social media, treat your engagement on social platforms as strategic supplements to a substantive grants program – your bread and butter – and allocate staff time on those platforms accordingly.

About the Author:

Michelle Anthony LaCroix