by Geraldine Gatehouse | June 30, 2011
Increasingly, nonprofit organizations are struggling to maintain the level of services they provide to the underprivileged communities they serve. So it is heartening whenever we see major corporations put efforts into helping nonprofits. In Citigroup’s case, it is giving people access to financial instruments that they might otherwise not get.
The Citi Communications Development Project is a first-of-its-kind program designed to provide nonprofit organizations with best-in-class resources toward their communications capacity. Since its launch in June 2008, Citi Community Development has helped raise the visibility of several leading nonprofits, particularly those serving low- and middle-income (LMI) populations, by providing them with world-class communications resources so that they can thrive in the digital age. 

The program represents an integral part of Citi’s continued commitment to helping individuals and communities make it in the financial mainstream. Now entering its fourth year, the program has had a demonstrable and impressive impact, with Citi’s $3 million investment in 11 national and local community development organizations resulting in: 

• Over 25 million media impressions in local, national, and trade outlets, leading to greater awareness among potential clients, donors, and other constituents; 
• An average 400 percent increase in web traffic to partner sites;
• The creation of dynamic, user-friendly websites and social media communities that have made it easier to engage, share information, and conduct transactions with clients and donors online 
• The leveraging of these combined efforts into an additional $7.2 million in funding raised by participating nonprofit organizations.

Participants that have benefited from the Citi Communications Development Project include the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a national microenterprise development organization; EARN, an award-winning nonprofit from California that is the nation’s leading provider of individual development accounts (matched savings accounts for low-income workers); and the National Development Council, the country’s oldest national nonprofit organization dedicated to community economic development.

EARN is an asset-building organization and a leader in building the savings and investments of low- to moderate-income communities to create long-term stability and build wealth. EARN’s participation in the Citi initiative coincided with the organization’s emergence as the nation’s leading provider of individual development accounts (IDAs), which are matched savings accounts for low-income workers, who can use them to save up money for buying a house, as a college fund, or for starting or growing a small business. Coupled with EARN’s plans to launch a policy and research arm, these were excellent reasons to raise EARN’s national profile as a service provider and thought leader. 

Working with Citi, EARN began to use social media to reach donors, program participants, and the public. Citi Community Development also helped the organization establish strong relationships with—and secured story and feature placements in—A-list publications at the national, regional, and trade levels. EARN also drew on the program for guidance with positioning its new series of white papers and research studies. 

Working closely with EARN staff, Citi helped put in place a number of sustainable communications initiatives, including revamped core messaging and media training, a national expert program, a new website digital media program, and social media. They generated the following results:

• Search engine optimization and use of social media tools enhanced online visibility and led to a $775,000 grant. To supplement this, EARN utilized an online fundraising campaign to raise $250,000 in matching funds.
• After using its new media relations capacity to promote key initiatives, EARN was featured in Time magazine, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
• Among other social media tools, an active Twitter feed, featuring the “EARN Savings Tip of the Day,” was launched. 
• EARN’s new website serves as a tool for managing information and resources available to EARN clients. 

I think this project can serve as inspiration for all of us. We may not have the resources to carry out a project of the Citi Communications Development Project's scope, but perhaps we can take a look at where our expertise lies to see what services we could provide. 

There are many opportunities to contribute to the communities in which we live. If you work for a company that’s interested in giving back, it might want to undertake a project that specifically uses the products and services it provides. Alternatively, as an entrepreneur or small company, you might be able to join with similar individuals interested in teaming up to offer services, learning, mentoring, or other resources to nonprofits in your community.

Quote of the month 

I don't believe that the solutions in society will come from the left or the right or the north or the south. They will come from islands within those organizations, islands of people with integrity who want to do something. —Karl-Henrik Robert, Founder, The Natural Step

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner, speaker, and instructor with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, a member of Meeting Professionals International, a committee member of the Site Classic, and a 2010 past board member of Site Southern California. She can be reached at [email protected], via her 

and on