Working at various nonprofits over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about stakeholders. There’s the community stakeholders. These people are living in and around the area the nonprofit serves. There’s the financial backers. They regularly give goods and money with an emotional stake in the nonprofit. There’s also the direct stakeholders. These people, as you might guess, receive the service benefits of the non-profit directly. The direct stakeholders are also the group defined in the “needs” statement of a grant proposal and really define the nonprofit’s efforts.
As the internet and information become wildly more available, the scope and definition of “stakeholder” changes.
The Changing Rhetorical Landscape of nonprofits
The internet has changed the way “community” has formed. A tweet shouting out towards disabled rights might get thousands of likes. Conversely, a Linkedin post about Yakima afterschool programs might get one, if they’re lucky. It’s not necessarily an issue of platform or timing, but more likely an issue on the community members themselves.
Attending a nonprofit summit in Spokane a few years ago, the reality of nonprofit funding was made clear to me by the conversations I had with dozens of staff. Larger more nationally reaching nonprofits hold sway for private donors, foundations, and public visibility. The large nonprofits have resources to hire marketing staff and can keep the ball rolling with constant community messaging. The result, smaller more focused organizations vie for miniscule grants (which are getting smaller) which forces them to go outside their community to seek funding.
A note: Many foundations recognize that the public responds better to a lengthy “Organizations Funded” list and not necessarily the amount each nonprofit is funded. In other words, it looks better for a foundation to have funded 50 organizations (each only $1000) in a year than to show they gave 1 organization $50,000. The list looks more compelling than the amount to donors.
Identify your place as a community stakeholder
Twitter, Linkedin, and blogs are all filled with individuals expressing their identity. There are several academics I follow on Twitter that are disabled and they tweet constantly about the struggles they face on a daily basis. More importantly, there are tons of people that face similar disabilities or have a loved one afflicted with similar disabilities. I see the constant support they give each other back and forth.
What does expressing identity have to do with being a community stakeholder? It means that, for many of us using the internet to connect, we’ve widened our sense of community to incorporate more voices and a larger platform to be heard ourselves. While enacting awareness is fantastic, there are some concerning side effects of taking your sense of community online.
- Funders, i.e. financial backers, are more likely to support a wider nonprofit because they feel it will have the greatest impact. Their sense of community is also becoming widened.
- You threaten your sense of community connectedness by widening it becoming potentially less invested in the immediate needs of your local community. Consider whether you prefer a larger more shallow community or a smaller more personal community.
- Focused local issues are filtered out. Many people self moderate their online content to appeal to that wider audience. This leads to problems in reporting these issues at all.
As the community is widened the definition of community stakeholder is also widened. While more people can access these broad communities, funders will also give to the broadly defined nonprofits ignoring specialized community needs.
Lend a hand
I’m not here to say “don’t support large nonprofits”, many of them do wonderful things for many people. What I mean to say is recognize that in your immediate community there are people that need you. Yes, they need specifically you. They need your money and they need your time. There are many small nonprofits that get overlooked because of the specific needs they address don’t affect a large population.
On the flip side, you also need those local focused nonprofits. They are there to make your community a safer, happier, and just-plain-better place. Try to find one you can really pour your heart into; I know they need it.
There’s a very small nonprofit in Spokane, WA that provides a social space for intellectually and developmentally disabled persons (IDD). Take a look at their website. They fulfill such a specific need that it makes getting funding very difficult. Last I checked, the nonprofit only had 1 staff member. Everyone else is volunteer. I don’t give them a penny, but I give them shout outs and encourage others to support. I had helped them make a grant portfolio for other funding through a class in grad school. If funding is difficult, try to find other ways to support a meaningful local nonprofit.
Jennifer and I put our money in Yakima’s Union Gospel Mission. For now, it’s local and many of her patients rely on their services. We also donate our unwanted clothing to their thrift store. On occasion, we also give to Spokane’s Youth and Teen Challenge. The director is a friend and I know that Spokane needs a place that the one they provide. It has taken years before I could start giving regularly.
If you can, try to not lose your sense of identity to the larger audience on the internet. Also remember, you can still give to many large nonprofits, but try to specify in your donation where you like the money to go. Many of them allow you to choose where and how the money will be used. This is great for addressing needs that you are more invested in.
If you are unable to give financially, try to tailor your online messaging to help those in your local community. Giving awareness can be helpful too.
As always, thank you for reading and I hope that you have found something of value to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Likewise, if there is any advice you could give me, I would love to hear from you. Thank you.