Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

The power of face-to-face communications

katesunnersAuthor: Kate Sunners


As part of a university research project, I was lucky enough to spend half a day with an indigenous education not-for-profit this month….

I had four hours of training and chats with an indigenous education-focussed NFP, leading to a big gain in emotionally intelligent thinking, self-reflection, and awareness of language and attitudes.

However the training also made me think how difficult it is for not-for-profits to present the importance of their work to funding bodies when it is fairly intangible and process-based, and doesn’t slot so well into easy categories and concepts.

I have tried myself to explain to friends why this training was so great, and how it was able to alter my perception and awareness of indigenous education and identity issues in the space of four hours, but it comes out sounding like much less of a game changer than it was.

I think this is partly because unless you’ve had experience trying to change deeply ingrained beliefs and social mores, and have seen first-hand how hard that is to do, you won’t understand how incredible it is to be able to do it within the space of one workshop.

It’s also because I don’t have the wealth of experience and stories that the NFP’s staff were able to draw on. 

One of the best parts of the training for me was the face-to-face time with staff, who engaged us in conversation and used stories from their own lives and experiences running the program to illustrate the points they were making. 

Their use of a well-produced film at the conclusion of the day gave us a fantastic summary of the reasons for the organisation’s existence and the social change it is aiming for.

However, without the excellent communicators who led us through the experience, the video would have had much less of an impact.

I understand now why the organisation had requested the presence of our research group on site, rather than holding another Skype or teleconference session. 

It is so important, especially in the age of digital communications, to remember the power of face-to-face exchanges and the value of well-trained communicators who enjoy negotiating the complexities of conversation.

It’s not easy from a bottom-line point of view for not-for-profits to release such well-trained people from their daily work in order to utilise their skills for networking and fundraising.

But their ability to communicate the conceptual parts of their work and why it is so important might be one of the most vital ways of making long-lasting connections and proving the worth of a not-for-profit even in the hyper-competitive funding world.