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Learn ways to attract support--not for your entire agency, but for a specific component of your agency, or for a single activity your agency conducts.


Institutionalizing a program means making sure that people realize it is needed and necessary to the community's interests, and that steps are taken to make sure the program becomes permanent. One way that a program can be institutionalized is to convince other area agencies, organizations, and coalitions to support it.

What do we mean by attracting support for specific programs?

In this section, we'll talk about ways to attract support--not for your entire agency, but for a specific component of your agency, or for a single activity your agency conducts. There are different forms that this support can take:

  • Having someone else run the program: You might be able to get another group to take over a program entirely.

For example, if your literacy coalition starts a writing program in the elementary schools, you might be able to get a child advocacy group or a college preparatory initiative to take over running that program.

  • Having someone else provide funding or resources for the program: You may find that while another group might not be willing to take over the nuts and bolts of running the program, they may be willing to give you money, supplies, or personnel time for it.

For example, you might be able to find a local print shop that's willing to do all the printing and photocopying for your writing program. 

  • Having someone else house the program: A very simple way for another group or agency to provide support is to give you office or meeting space.

For example, the schools could designate rooms to be used for workshops in the writing program we've been talking about, or a local business could let your program use an office in one of their buildings.

Why try to attract support for specific programs (as opposed to the whole initiative)?

  • To make your program permanent. Obviously, if you have a program that you think is worthy and effective, you will probably want to see that program continue. Getting others to help support that program will go a long way toward making it permanent.
  • To get support from people who might not normally support your overall initiative. Some potential supporters might be willing to support a specific program even though they might not be willing to support all of your work.

For example, let's say you work with a county-wide AIDS and HIV prevention coalition. You might find that although your local faith community is reluctant to back your coalition because you distribute condoms and conduct safer sex education programs, you still might be able to get their support for a specific program on abstinence.

  • To make a limited-time program go on for a longer period of time.

For example, let's say you you've received a grant to conduct a one-year street drug prevention program in your town. The program has been successful and you'd like to see it continue, but the funding can't continue beyond the end of that one year. This would be a good reason to start looking for others to support this program.

  • To make you less dependent on any one source of support. If you depend on a single source of support, you run the risk of losing it all if something goes wrong. What if you get all your funding for your youth theater program from a single source, and then that source decides that it should be able to dictate the content of the plays your group performs? Or what if that source decides to stop funding your program at all? Getting support from a variety of sources gives you more autonomy to do the things you want to do and more certainty that you'll always be able to do them.
  • To raise support for your organization as a whole. Getting support for a specific program can raise awareness about your overall organization. Being able to show that people support one of the things that you do can get people interested in the other things that you stand for. This can interest other agencies and bodies in adopting your programs and philosophies.

When should you try to attract support for specific programs?

You should try to attract support for specific programs throughout the life of the program--from the initial planning all the way through implementation. Appealing to others for their support, gaining that support early on, then going on to maintain it is far easier than trying to garner support after the fact. Then, once the program is place, you should appeal for even more support in order to institutionalize it

Other times you should try to attract support for specific programs:

  • When the program isn't something your group plans to continue doing, but it is something you'd like to see go on.
  • When the program was the result of a "one-time" grant and you don't have the resources to continue it.

Using a fictional example, let's look at a situation in which someone working with a community organization could decide to attract support for a specific program.

Example: When to look for support for the Cheyenne Young Parents Program

Sally Sitting-Up works with a social services organization at a Cheyenne reservation in Montana. She started and runs the Cheyenne Young Parents Program, which provides workshops on parenting to teen parents on the reservation. In two months, Sally is moving on to a job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. In addition, unfortunately, budget cutbacks at the social services organization mean that her job--and with it, the Cheyenne Young Parents Program--are going to be phased out. Funding is secure for the next two years because of a grant, but Sally needs to find someone to take over running the program before she leaves or else it will cease to exist.

Whom should you try to attract support from?

  • Civic organizations: This includes groups like the chamber of commerce, the county historical society, local preservation groups, community health coalitions, and other types of citizens' groups. These organizations include members from a broad spectrum of the community, and getting the support of any of these groups can help draw further support from other organizations.
  • Governmental officials or bodies: Getting the support of your city council, the mayor, the state legislature, or others in the government can go a long way toward making your program permanent, especially in terms of funding. If approaching legislative bodies, it is important to be familiar with any lobbying laws and regulations that might apply to your program. A good guide for this is The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide by Bob Smucker (see the Resources list at the end of this section for more information on this book).
  • Other social service or public health agencies: Depending on your program's purpose, you can approach a variety of agencies that deal in service or health issues. These may include the local mental health center, the county health department, your area Planned Parenthood office, and local chapters of national organizations like the American Red Cross or the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
  • Key community influentials: These are the movers and shakers of your community--prominent business people, well-known local activists, religious leaders, and so on. These people can have an enormous amount of influence on others, and can be instrumental in helping you gain a broad base of support.
  • Foundations and other grant makers: Probably the most important type of support you can hope for is money. Attracting the support of funding agents, especially local ones, is vital.

Example: Potential supporters of the Cheyenne Young Parents Program

Sally came up with the following list of groups that she might be able to enlist to support her program:

  • The state chapter of the National Education Association
  • The Parent-Teacher Association at the reservation school
  • The Child Welfare Association
  • The local Social and Rehabilitative Services office
  • The reservation medical clinic
  • The local Head Start office
  • Area substance use programs
  • The women's shelter

At this point, you may find it useful to do an informal (or formal, depending on your scope) survey of potential supporters to find out what their reasons for supporting or not supporting your program could be. Often, those who aren't supportive can be broken down into three distinct groups:

  • Those who are resistant to supporting you. Depending on the reasons for their resistance, you may or may not be able to win these groups over.

For example, if you work with an AIDS/HIV prevention group and you run a needle exchange program for intravenous drug users, the local drug abuse prevention groups may be resistant to supporting your program.

  • Those who are indifferent to your cause. These don't see the benefits of supporting your program, or don't see your work as having anything to do with theirs. You will need to convince them that supporting your program is worthwhile, important, and relevant to their own causes.

For example, if you run a domestic violence prevention program, you might find that the local child welfare agency is unresponsive to your efforts, until you emphasize the correlation between domestic violence and child abuse in your town.

  • Those who are under-informed about your cause. These groups just don't know about your program. This might include the general public or groups that might not normally see the connections between their causes and your own. You'll need to educate them through media campaigns, social marketing, word of mouth, or other methods.

How do you attract support for specific programs?

Decide what program you want to attract support for.

This may be something you've already decided on, since you're reading this section. But if your organization has more than one program, perhaps you should spend some time thinking about which one (or which ones) to concentrate on.

Let's continue with the example we've been using so far. Sally Sitting-Up doesn't have to decide which program she wants to attract support for, because she already knows she wants to attract support for the Cheyenne Young Parents Program.

Decide what kind of support you want to look for.

As we discussed earlier in this section, this can mean having someone else run the program, having someone else provide funding or resources for the program, or having someone else house the program. Think about what exactly you want to accomplish and how other groups can help you accomplish it.

Clearly, Sally knows that the type of support she needs to look for is someone to take over running the Cheyenne Young Parents Program.

Decide who is most likely to provide that support.

Try not to waste too much time barking up the wrong tree; if at all possible, limit those you approach to the agencies, organizations, and individuals that you think are most likely to respond positively to your request for support--or at least those that you think you might be able to persuade.

Example: Deciding who is most likely to take over running the Cheyenne Young Parents Program

Sally carefully went over the list of potential supporters she'd come up with in our last example. After thinking the matter through and getting input from other people she worked with, she decided that the reservation medical clinic would be the most likely candidate for taking over her program, for several reasons:

  • Sally's social services organization has had a long and productive working relationship with the clinic.
  • The medical clinic took over a baby-sitter referral program from Sally's agency a couple of years ago, and that went very well.
  • The grant for the parenting program includes some general operating costs that go to the agency running the program, and the clinic has been strapped for cash lately.
  • The clinic already serves almost all the teen parents who would be eligible for the program, so it makes sense for the program to go there.

Come up with a written request for the support.

Next, give some thought to how you can best make your program seem like an attractive thing for the potential supporter to take on. As we showed in Promoting Adoption of the Initiative's Mission and Objectives, some brainstorming can help you come up with common goals between your program and the potential supporter. Coming up with a list of common goals can help you make your "pitch," but you will also need to clearly outline what sort of support you need and make sure that what you're asking for is unambiguous.

Put your request in writing. Depending on the extent of the support you're requesting, this may be as simple as a one-page letter, or it could be a detailed proposal. Whatever form it takes, your proposal to the potential supporter will need to outline the following details:

  • Exactly what sort of support you're requesting, or at least an invitation to meet and discuss these details
  • When you want the support to begin (and, if applicable, end)
  • Why the potential supporter should go for it

As with anything you write, be sure to have others look over a draft of your work and give you feedback before coming up with the final version.

Example: Sally's request for support for the Cheyenne Young Parents Program

Because both the agencies and the program involved were small, the director of the clinic was very familiar with Sally and her program, and she had already spoken informally with the director about the possibility of taking over the program, Sally decided to make her proposal in the form of a simple letter:

                                                  Eagle Feather Social Services
                                                  9876 Big Trail Rd., Suite 316
                                                  Anytown, MT 12345

Walter Little Coyote
Pine Ridge Family Clinic
P.O. Box 765
Anytown, MT 12345

February 16, 1999

Dear Walter:

I am writing to you today in reference to the Cheyenne Young Parents Program. As you already know, I will be leaving the Pine Ridge Reservation in April for a new position in Washington, D.C. at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While I am excited about this new opportunity, I am sad to have to leave my work here in Montana. Perhaps the thing I'm most sad to leave behind is the Cheyenne Young Parents Program.

As you know, Eagle Feather Social Services has been dealing with a lot of budget cuts over the past year. In an effort to stick to the budget, our director has decided that when I leave, there will be a restructuring of staff responsibilities so that my position can be phased out. Unfortunately, in order to do this, it will be no longer possible for Eagle Feather to sponsor some of the projects I have worked on during my time here. One of the programs that will be affected is the Cheyenne Young Parents Program.

I am hoping that you and your staff at the Pine Ridge Family Clinic will consider adopting the program, much as you did the baby-sitter referral program in 1997, so that it can continue serving the many teen parents here at the reservation. The program is fully funded by a grant from a private corporation, so as long as you have a staff member who is willing to devote about 5 to 10 hours a week to it, your expenses for doing so will be covered. It is only because of the staff restructuring here at Eagle Feather that the program is being discontinued.

In addition, the grant includes some general operating costs that go to the agency running the program, which may be helpful to the clinic as a whole. I think that taking over the program would be fairly easy for the clinic to do, since it already works with almost all the teen parents on the reservation who would be eligible for the program.

I know that working with the young parents of our reservation is of great importance to you and everyone else at Pine Ridge Family Clinic, and I can think of no other agency I would trust as fully to take over operation of a program so near to my own heart.

Should the Pine Ridge Family Clinic decide to take over the program, we would need to notify the funding agent as soon as possible. I would gladly take the time to work with whoever takes over running the program to insure that he or she feels ready to start before I leave town. Please take some time to discuss this proposal with your staff and consider this possibility, and feel free to call me should you have any questions whatsoever. I will call you in a few days to discuss your decision.


Sally Sitting-Up
Cheyenne Young Parents Program

Follow up.

After submitting your proposal, make yourself available for any questions or concerns the potential supporter might have--as Sally did in the previous example. Contact the potential supporter to find out their decision. If they decide to support your program, be ready to spend whatever time and energy it takes to help them begin--this could be as simple as handing over some paperwork or it could be as complicated as performing staff training sessions.

Example: Following up on the Cheyenne Young Parents Program

To Sally's delight, Walter Little Coyote called her the very next day to say that the Pine Ridge Family Clinic would love to take over running the Cheyenne Young Parents Program! Over the next few weeks, Sally had a lot of work to do--getting the grant transferred from her agency to the new one, making sure all the program's supplies and paperwork got moved to the new location, notifying the people the program serves of the change, and training the staff member at the clinic who'd agreed to run the program.

"All the effort was absolutely worth it," she said later. "This program serves an important purpose, and I'm really relieved knowing that it's going to continue doing so after I've left the reservation."

General tips for attracting--and keeping--support:

  • Be helpful to others. That way, later on, you can collect on those favors by asking for support.
  • Giving public recognition to your supporters is also important. Thank your benefactors publicly.
  • Gather and interpret information about the target population, other potential client populations, new service opportunities, and the community as a whole.
  • Give supporters lots of feedback about their efforts. This helps them know how they are being most helpful and ways that they can improve.
  • Impress them with outcomes. The best motivator for potential supporters is how good your cause is. Show what a good cause your group or organization is, and how effective your program is in helping that cause. This means showing that your program is needed and effective. People who are going to give you resources--funders in particular--want to see results. Strategies include letting supporters see that the people the program serves are pleased with the results, being as involved in high-level decision making (e.g., lobbying, campaigning for sympathetic legislators, participating in hearings where rules affecting your group are being considered, etc.) as possible, and appealing to their particular vested interests by showing them how your program can help them accomplish their own goals.

In Summary

Finding support for a specific program means that you will need to draw upon your skills in networking, communicating, and forging good working relationships with those whose support you want. It's a good way to make sure that a program becomes institutionalized, whether or not your own initiative or organization remains.

Print Resources

Dilworth, R. (1996). Institutionalizing learning organizations in the public sector. Public productivity and management review. Vol. 19, No. 4.

Flanagan, J. (1984). How to ask for money. In Cox, Erlich, Rothman, & Tropman. Tactics and techniques of community practice. Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

Grace, K. (1997). Beyond fund raising: New strategies for nonprofit innovation and investment, New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Hasenfeld, Y. (1995). Program development. In Rothman, J., Erlich, J., & Tropman, J.Strategies of Community Intervention. Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

Kotler, N., & Kotler, P. (1998). Museum strategy and marketing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Leonard-Barton, D. (1995). Wellsprings of knowledge: Building and sustaining the sources of innovation, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Patti, R. (1995). Managing for service effectiveness in social welfare organizations. In Rothman, J., Erlich, J., & Tropman, J. Strategies of community intervention, Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

Sherry, S., & Lipschultz, C. (1984). Consumer education as community activator. In Cox, Erlich, Rothman, & Tropman. Tactics and techniques of community practice. Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc. pp. 209-222.

Sherwood, F. (1992). Institutionalizing executive development and attendant programs. Public productivity and management review. Vol. 15, No. 4