In September 2015 I was at the Regional Development Australia Conference, to present on some research I did at the University of Queensland, on communication and rural community development. 

While there’s definitely some crossover between what Strategic Grants does and the development and strengthening of regional communities (particularly around capacity building), for a large part of the conference I was meeting and listening to people who were from industries and sectors quite removed from mine.

So, of course, it made me think: what can we as fundraisers learn (or blatantly steal) from regional, economic and community development?

Here’s what I worked out.

1. The most interesting community projects (and ultimately those which have the most impact) often involve an aspect of thinking outside the box, and of working with people who bring new skills or resources to complement what you already have.

There’s a lesson in this for nonprofits developing their project ideas: part of being an expert in your area is about acknowledging where you could benefit from working with others. No one has all the answers. Who are you collaborating with in your sector – and who could you be collaborating with?

2. Long-term thinking can inform short- and medium-term projects. A major concern for regional development is projections of population growth over the coming decades, and work done now must prepare for the future.

Although it might be on a smaller scale, any planning your nonprofit is doing – be it strategic planning for the organisation, or project planning for a particular aspect of your mission – is worth doing with an eye on the future.

What impact is long-term change likely to have on the people you assist or the work that you do? Is your organisation preparing now to be in the best possible position to respond?

3. On the other side of this, it’s important to understand and articulate the long-term impact of what you do – and there are probably others who can help with this.

Some of the best collaborations I saw in the regional development space weren’t just around getting things done, but around working together to assess impact.

If your nonprofit does not have the internal capacity to predict, capture and explain the long-term effects of your work, look for possible partners who can help you to do this.

Universities are a good choice, obviously, but specialist service providers like demographers can help you project and quantify, for example, the long-term economic benefits of housing or employing people in the short-term.

4. Finally, the lesson evident at every conference is: there’s nothing more compelling than someone who loves the story they’re telling. We’ve all sat through boring presentations – and we’ve all seen the ones that make us laugh, and discuss, and think.

Apply this to funder relationships: who is representing your work to prospective funders? Are they able to speak (or write) with both passion and knowledge about what you do?

Even the best message can be lost, if the wrong person is sent to convey it.