Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Improve Ways to Tell Your Story to Offset Shrinking CDRLF and CDFI Allocations

If you are an executive at a Community Development Credit Union or at a designated Community Development Financial Institution and dependent on grants to sustain your programs, you already know that how you complete the grant application process determines your chances for securing the funds on which your program relies. Well, stand by because the application process is about to get even more challenging!

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that includes cuts in funding for NCUA’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund as well as the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. The measure allocates $500,000 for the CDRLF (this year, the fund received $1.25 million) and $183 million for the CDFI, a reduction from the requested amount of $227.2 million.

With all the attention being given these days to reduce the national deficit, we should not be surprised by these cutbacks in funding, which unfortunately may be on the horizon for some time to come! However, for those prepared to tackle this new wave of austerity, the impact can be managed quite successfully. Here’s one way to make it happen.

As a public relations professional and from my work in institutional development and capital campaigns, I’ve learned the importance of brand perception and the role it plays in building success, whether it be for a funding campaign, a program or an organization. While it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the application process, many times we tend to forget how branding and the communications we share about our programs over the course of time can influence our chances of attracting the funding we seek.  

Success breeds success. If you already are engaged in community development and have the stories to tell that demonstrate your abilities to truly make a difference among the underserved, then you have half the battle won. A list of success stories not only proves your skills in good stewardship, it also points to your abilities to develop and manage projects and programs that are truly making a difference in the community. Remember, potential donors and foundations want to associate themselves with success. They want to back a winner.

Now, if a track record of success is half the battle and one that makes for quite a persuasive appeal when you go to solicit funds, you must be wondering what the other half of the battle can be. Well hold on, I see it as a “must do” to securing a donor’s commitment.

You have to tell your story—but in ways that garner more attention than others vying for the same funding. Yes, I caution here against following your innate credit union instincts that tell you you’re boasting if you promote the good work you are doing. When it comes to soliciting funds there’s no alternative if you want your program to survive. I see it as a “must do” to influence perceptions and nourish your brand. Simply relying on the written word to describe your activities in the grant proposal form just won’t cut it in today’s highly-competitive race for dollars. You have to stand out and one way to do that is to improve and increase the ways you tell your story.

How? Document the successes of your involvement in community development using a variety of media, and constantly and consistently push the images and stories out into the limelight. This might involve creating a series of video testimonies from those who benefited most from your program or perhaps launching a Facebook page where folks can follow the work you’re doing and become more engaged in supporting your good cause. Reserve a small portion of the funds you receive for communication purposes, specifically to document the results achieved by the funding. Consider it an investment for securing future funding.

Pursuing an organized communications strategy like this not only influences how others perceive and experience what you and your program are all about—your brand—it also helps to further establish your credibility as a respectable community development organization. It contributes to your position as a winner!

Today, we may be seeing allocations to the CDRLF and CDFI funds shrinking and intensifying applicant competition, but community development organizers that implement strategies to document and share their compelling stories of success using electronic and social media will find themselves ahead of the competition. While doing so may not ease all the requirements associated with the grant application process, it will contribute significantly. It’s an investment in your community development program that I believe, you cannot afford to overlook.


  1. Walt,

    Story telling is a lost art form today. So you are spot on: credit unions must tell their stories. It is not self serving: it's smart. Public relations is simply doing good and telling others about it. Credit unions are absolutely "doing the good" part. Now they just need to tell others. So your "you have to tell your story" is spot on.

  2. Thanks, Mark. Another perspective to "telling your story" is the hope that it will also inspire others to emulate the good work you are doing by picking up the yoke and doing the same. How you tell your story determines whether it is boasting or inspiring!