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Nonprofit connections

Three ways being authentic helps nonprofits establish a connection with their constituents

Many nonprofits want to know how they can establish a connection with their constituents. Luckily, the answer is simple — be authentic. This doesn’t just relate to your organization’s mission or the way you share your story through marketing efforts. It requires more. Unfortunately, many nonprofits shy away from being authentic for a number of reasons:

  • It’s perceived as a weakness.
  • You think others don’t want to hear your story.
  • You want to remain professional.
However, authenticity showcases what is real and that’s what your constituents (and people in general) want. We relate more to others when we share our truth. How many times have you had a conversation with someone where it ended with you saying, “Me too!”? I’m not saying we need to go around our offices telling stories and shedding tears with coworkers, but I am suggesting we learn to share our truth in a way that resonates with others because that’s when we connect, feel inspired and commit to helping others (aka your audience deciding to support your organization). Being authentic might look like:
  • Being open about the mission and purpose of your company
  • Sharing details about your nonprofit’s financial status
  • Showcasing how your organization is impacting the workers at your organization
  • Explaining why you opened your organization and HOW it continues to impact you as a leader
  • Being an approachable and honest leader, coworker or friend

Brene Brown, a researcher and author who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, says being authentic is the courage to be imperfect and vulnerable. So, how does this translate to your nonprofit and constituents? Here’s how authenticity can help you better connect with your donors, volunteers, staff and board.


1. Donors

A Gallup survey reports that donors give when they feel a strong emotional and psychological connection to an organization and they are more likely to keep going back to that organization because it is emotionally engaging. Classy also states that “people are more likely to donate based on feelings, not logic.” A great way for your organization to be authentic and connect with donors is to share specific stories of how others have been impacted by your organization. The Identifiable Victim Effect states that donors are more likely to make a contribution when your messaging focuses on an individual rather than a large group of people or statistic. This is because stories that focus on a single individual impact donors on a greater emotional level because... you guessed it... they feel a connection to it.

Takeaway: Share specific stories of individuals your organization has helped (with permission, of course). Include these in your end-of-year appeals, website messaging, social media posts and more. People often want to know how your organization is using their money and sharing these testimonial stories is a great way to show them. If you work in healthcare, share how your services helped a family. Perhaps your organization focuses on helping your community, share how your services provided assistance to an individual in need. Highlighting specific stories will allow others to see how your organization is making a difference and inspire them to be part it.


2. Volunteers and staff

Common leadership adjectives include confident, inspiring and assertive, but rarely authentic. In fact, most leaders might find it scary to be authentic in front of their staff and team. However, a HubSpot article states that authentic leadership is the strongest determiner of employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment and happiness in the workplace. When leaders are authentic, it shows employees they can be authentic too. It also sets the tone for what behaviors and actions leaders expect from their employees and volunteers. A Global Human Capital Trends survey reported 93% of its respondents said a sense of belonging drives organizational performance. If your employees and volunteers feel connected to your organization, they are more likely to stay and support your cause.

Takeaway: Lead by example. Encourage your staff and team through the way you run your organization. Share stories of what you did over the weekend or spread inspirational messages of how your organization is making an impact. Being honest about what is going on in your life and the organization will encourage your staff to do the same and help them feel more connected to your nonprofit.


3. Board

A solid board often succeeds because members trust one another and believe in furthering the organization’s mission together. Authenticity promotes a healthy board by allowing board members to express their ideas, opinions and concerns. Being honest about the state of the organization will encourage board members to feel trusted to handle their responsibilities. Your board members will notice when you are being transparent with them and they will appreciate it when you share about an issue going on in the organization, something you overcame in your professional life or a challenge you’re currently facing. This will invite them into the issue and establish a relationship of trust. As a leader, it will also show you that you can trust them, too.

Takeaway: Make core values for your organization and highlight authenticity as one. Set ground rules of how you want the board to run and create an atmosphere of open communication, transparency and trust. Doing so will encourage board members that you are serious about the atmosphere of the organization. It will also result in a stronger board supporting you and your organization.


Humans are designed for connection. Take the extra step, tell the extra story and take the time to get to know others on a deeper level. When you do this as a leader, your board, staff and volunteers will follow suite. It will also attract others to be part of your organization. It’s important to do this with your constituents, but it’s also important to practice authenticity with those around you every day. If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that we need each other. So, get out there, tell your story and get to know others in an authentic way. And when people ask how they can establish a similar connection at their nonprofit you can say, they answer is simple – be authentic.


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