fundraising, social media strategy

Social Media and Foundations

10 Comments 31 March 2010

Image courtesy of Marc Wathieu

I had a very interesting conversation with a board member of prominent nonprofit organization in New York City on Saturday: she asked me if social media can help her nonprofit raise funds from foundations. When I said “absolutely, yes,” she replied, “but no one believes me when I tell them that!”

Philanthropies and foundations are online. Really.

It’s not true that funders aren’t online. Philanthropy 411 wrote a series of blog posts last summer that listed where to find philanthropies on twitter, including 130 Foundations that Tweet, 21 Community Foundations that Tweet20 Funder Networks that Tweet, and a comprehensive list of Foundations, Staff, and Board Members on Twitter. Beth Kanter also published a post entitled 8 Nonprofit CEOs that Tweet, which garnered 25 comments by CEOs who added themselves to the list. More and more are online each week. You can easily find this out by looking at their website, or looking at

When I raised money from foundations, my organization was much more likely to receive a funding award if we had an established relationship with the grants manager. If you can’t establish a relationship with a grants manager in person, use social media to do it.

A challenge:

Build into your yearly development plan a social media strategy for getting to know the foundation officers you want to approach for funding.

As part of your entire development strategy, you’ve identified the foundations that you want to approach. Now search for them on social media. Find out where they are online. Spend the time to get to know their online personalities. Find out what groups they are involved in on Linkedin, chat with them on Twitter, become active on their Facebook fan page, comment on their videos.

In all probability, they will begin to notice you, and may soon follow you back or connect with you proactively in the same social spaces. If you have your online strategy in place, and an organizational commitment to social media, then you are ready for them to follow back and take part in the discussions happening in your social spaces.

Be ready for the funders when they come to visit.

Above all, develop an organizational commitment to using social media to create conversation and engage with stakeholders. You should establish several online spaces for funders to interact, view the conversation, and learn about the dynamics of your specific issues of concern. Social media spaces to consider:  website, mobile, social networks, blog, microblogging, video sharing, audio sharing, RSS feeds, and photo sharing sites.

Also consider the value that your organization can offer followers/friends within each online space: What are the broad topic areas you want to discuss? Will the discussions include how the information that you produce on the social media platforms add value and create loyalty? How will it create collaboration and awareness of how others are also addressing the issue?

For example: if I ran a local anti-poverty agency, I would focus on messaging that creates a conversation about local poverty, links it with other issues affected by poverty, and talk about what concrete steps would make a real difference. I would also highlight collaborative efforts, and others’ efforts, to show that you are most concerned with alleviating the cause, not just promoting your organization’s efforts (See related post by Ed Nicholson on this topic here.)

Can social media be a useful tool to raise money from foundations? Absolutely. But don’t begin the conversation unless your organization is ready for the funders to visit your social media spaces. Make your online spaces inviting, dynamic, and a great example of why they should fund you. Go out and find them. Then start talking!

Just as social media is an engagement strategy so is development work.

Start the conversation today.

  • Great post, Debra, I think these are very good suggestions for nonprofits. And thank for the mentions of the “funders that tweet” lists in my Philanthropy411 blog! Glad they are useful.
    — Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Community Investment Consulting


  • bethkanter

    Great post Debra – going to add it to my Social Media and Foundations wiki


  • Our foundation has definitely found social media useful as a new way of talking with people. Three of our staff actively use twitter (@tinaarnoldi, @georgestevens, @christinebeddia), we have a blog (, and we're on Facebook (


  • Kris, your lists are really incredible. I'd love to see updated lists for 2010. Interested?


  • Beth, thanks for letting me know about the Social Media and Foundations wiki. I'll check it out and possibly update the blog post with information from it.


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  • Debra — I'm finally catching up with my reading, and I really enjoyed this post. As you point out, social media can be a great listening tool to help nonprofits better understand the foundations and foundation staff they are approaching.

    You provide very concrete steps that nonprofits need to take to be ready to start conversing with foundations using social media. Another helpul and insightful post. Thanks.

    P.S. I'm going to add a link to this post as well as Beth Kanter's Social Media & Foundations wiki to the list of resources I give out when I train on building relationships with grantmakers. Up until now, I haven't been including any social media resources. So thank you to both you and Beth for providing more helpful information that I can share with the nonprofits I train.


  • Hi Laura,
    Wow – I'm really honored that you'll include this in your handouts to grantmakers. If I can be of any other help, do let me know. I think Beth's wiki is also a wonderful resource – would be awesome to have grantmakers add to that wiki from their perspective, wouldn't it?


  • Hi Debra:

    Actually, the workshop & handout are for a training I give to nonprofits about building relationships with grantmakers.

    It would be wonderful to get even more grantmakers talking about and embracing social media. Your post and Beth's wiki have got me thinking though. Lots of ideas to follow up on.



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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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