Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another Free Nonprofit Fundraising Consultation To Help During These Tough Times

During the last month and a half I have provided readers with free fundraising method consultations, in Seeking Grant Money Today, to help your fundraising work in these tough economic times. So far, they have been: "A Few Excellent Suggestions For Nonprofits To Survive These Uncertain Economic Times", "What Can Nonprofits Do In This Uncertain Economy?", "Write An Annual Appeal Letter To Raise Relatively Quick Funds", and "Getting Major Donors To Contribute Large Regular Donations Can Stabilize Cash Flow".

You may have brought in your leftover Halloween candy to "share" with the office, this morning (read "get out of my easy reach, at home" for "share"); and you are probably feeling very strongly about who should win the election (as most fellow Americans are, no matter which candidate you are voting for); and, let's be honest...you either know where you are going to be for Thanksgiving or you are working on that - which often means dealing with family "stuff". So, given just these few current common American events, and even without the economy's slowdown, we all need a hug, right about today. Please accept another free fundraising consultation, here, as a 'hug'!

In this post, I encourage you and the leadership of the nonprofit that you work for to also consider how well the organization is understood in the community(ies) it serves. Such marketing and public relations tools as the organization's: brochures, newsletters, website, the executive director and board members' elevator speech to others in the community about why they work for/volunteer with the nonprofit, donation remittance envelope, e-mails sent clients or donors, and any and all other times that your organization communicates with someone in the community are just as much important to the success of the group's fundraising as it is to the organization's programs.

If the community that the nonprofit serves does not understand some of your nonprofit's services or fee scales for programs that your organization provides; or if the community maybe doesn't recognize the name of your group, or even if local people know the name of your agency but don't know what your organization does - it is very difficult to raise new donors (even just individual household or local business donations); let alone increase/make better the service you're doing to achieve the mission statement's goals.

There is no nonprofit that couldn't use more donations. So, thinking about a nonprofit's need for more donations; larger donations; volunteers; strong, effective, experienced future board members (who could contribute and be effective at leadership); and any manner of all things that a strong, growing, and well run nonprofit requires to operate are 'raised' for the nonprofit through being sure that the community knows: who your organization is, what it does, who it is set up to serve, what it could use to help it run better, and your organization's success records. The way to be sure that the 'right' message is getting to people in the organization's community is by being proactive about marketing the nonprofit. Hoping that a local reporter calls your group to write a public interest piece, or assuming that your webmaster will put on your website that your organization just achieved its service benchmark for the year isn't going to get good effective marketing done for your agency. You can, though!

No organization ('for profit' or nonprofit) is ever done with its marketing. Marketing is never completed. Your organization always something coming or going on: a new program being started, a new benchmark achieved, a large contribution received, and other positive messages to make sure that your community knows about because it doesn't just get your organization's name 'out there'. When you market proactively, you are telling THE people who your organization is set up to both serve and receive from (the community that the organization serves (national or local)) what the organization's successes are, its strengths, and its capabilities. Giving people a reason to donate or volunteer with your nonprofit is one of the most effective, honest, and cheapest ways to raise contributions and volunteer support.

If your nonprofit, though, only goes to the local press when your organization is in dire straights and needs something, for instance, maybe the nonprofit's leadership did not plan or fund raise enough, and now it's in the hole $10,000 and may not be able to provide its annual program, so you go to the press to 'raise' the money; then your organization is actually demonstrating to current donors and potential (or future) donors why their money would be better donated to another nonprofit that operates and conducts its business more effectively. I know that old axiom, 'any press is good press' but my point is that your organization must be in control of its operations in order for anyone to want to invest in its programs. If it isn't, why shouldn't a donor who wants to support the organization's mission statement give to another nonprofit down the road who is working on the same issue or cause; but doing it well?! They should!! Proactive marketing is not a 'luxury' or 'someday, when we have more operations money' option. It is a powerful and cheaper fundraising and growth tool. Even if your organization does not yet have a marketing budget; it is worth the cost because on average, over time, the cost of proactively marketing makes more money, than is spent, incrementally, year to year.

How to begin a nonprofit marketing program:

__ Make a list of EVERYTHING that goes from the organization out to people, in the community it serves. This will include your agency's website, brochure, newsletter, etc. but it will also include the organization's clients (if they can speak or write), volunteers, staff, executive director, and board members. Again, as I've encouraged in this blog before, remembering that people will account for a lot of your organization's marketing byway of word of mouth, (whether you realize it or not) is critical to controlling the message that the community receives about the nonprofit. This is yet another reason why you must operate the nonprofit as the professional place of business that it is and treat everyone who comes through the door (so to speak) professionally and courteously. Just because, for instance your organization, is the only animal shelter in town, doesn't mean that you don't have to worry about what anyone says about your organization because local animals lovers only have one place to donate to; or because everyone already knows about your agency. They could give to the American Humane Society (a national organization) or wait to donate to your organization when it's demonstrated that it's being run better, maybe in a couple of years. No nonprofit can afford this.

__ Research local costs (e.g. advertising in local media, printing your organization's newsletter annually, etc.) within the community(ies) that the organization serves (spend money 'at home' and let donors and potential donors that "every dollar received is spent in our community" - again, market). Then project (a fair but rough) estimation of the number of people in the community could be reached (either letting them know for the first time what your group does, or clarifying a common misconception). Next, through research that can be done at your local library's reference desk determine the nonprofit's potential increase in donors, donation amounts, and future strong board members and other volunteers. Use population growth estimates for your region, conduct surveys in the community at large (beyond your current supporters), and research demographics such as median income per household and average donated annually, etc.. Complete a cost/benefit analysis for the three coming years. Be fair and honest, but error on the conservative side in your estimates and dollar amounts. Also, see if current or soon to be marketing costs can't be cut, or if spending could be reduced by a better price or if something couldn't get donated (as long as you aren't lessening the goal or losing quality).

__ Gather board members, relevant staff, and volunteers and form a marketing committee that will conduct further research, learn modern effective nonprofit marketing methods, plan, and then implement a new marketing program (that will live on, indefinitely). This committee, in its planning, will determine your organization's niche and how to benefit from and reach the pertinent market, include a marketing program budget, a three year plan, include goals and benchmarks, develop an evaluation method to check the marketing program's effectiveness and weigh results against the goals and benchmarks. All planning will be done again, year to year for the coming year. Anytime the committee finds a better way to do something, or a goal that isn't being achieved, there will be appropriate improvements made to the marketing program. So, then, over time it will become a strong and effective mode of marketing the organization (again to not just benefit programs and services, but to increase donors, donation amounts, and the quality of future board members).

__ Provide the marketing committee with the inventory of all current marketing materials and your cost/benefit analysis (and corresponding research), and then if you aren't on the committee back off and let them decide (after they've learned modern nonprofit marketing methods): the goal in the marketing plan; who will be responsible for what work; a timeline and deadlines; what resources, expertise, and supplies they will need; etc. Allow them to do their work. Trust in their abilities and in the lessons you'll learn along the way.

__ Remain open to the new program while keeping internal lines of communications open, allowing a dialogue to surround the new program, but keep true to the budget, timeline, and benchmarks set to keep the program underway. If according to the nonprofit's bylaws, all committees' plans must be ratified by the board before they begin - fine. Of course you must stick to your organization's bylaws and set procedures. Don't allow this to 'die on the vine', though. Discuss, respectfully disagree, listen to one another, and talk some more. Be open to the process that a new program's birth, or a new year of an established program entails.

__ Ask colleagues working at other nonprofits whether they are conducting a marketing program, and if so, what they would recommend, what they suggest, how they conduct their marketing, and what lessons they've learned. This is important as, across the U.S., community to community some localities react differently to different marketing methods and tools.

__ Read a recent, respected, nonprofit marketing book (on the right hand side of this page is my Amazon Store's box.  I hand selected each book in it because each are standards in the professional nonprofit sector and well regarded); take a recommended nonprofit marketing course (they aren't just in person, anymore, but many are held online, now) and find out if the instructor has strong successful experience; research what other, maybe larger nonprofits are doing - how they market; and learn. Be sure to hold yourself accountable to be knowledgeable, current, professional, and effective in marketing (as all operations and functions of the organization). Don't just put the results on the committee. Their job is to head up the program, design, goals, implementation, and evaluations. Your job, and the job of everyone else on staff (paid or volunteer) is to work with them, do the work that they design, believe in the prospects, and be proactive!

Do not feel like a braggart or over-zealous if your organization shares with the community its strengths and success such as:

__ any and all mission successes
__ program increases
__ a large donation received
__ new staff, executive director, or board member to the organization
__ a position on a current issue (often as an expert on the topic or field of work)
__ a wish list of items that would help provide a new program
__ celebrity appearances, talks, etc. that have to do with your organization
__ launching a new newsletter, a new agency website, etc.
__ any collaborative programs, projects, services, etc. that your group is doing with another agency (for profit or nonprofit)
__ coming in 'under budget' on a successful major campaign or a main program or service
__ and anything else that demonstrates your organization's successes, capabilities, expertise, capabilities, or any other strengths

Marketing a nonprofit may seem like a luxury, but it is actually a very critical and powerful way to raise awareness about your organization's mission statement, its programs, its successes, and more. By proactively marketing you are making the case before potential donors, current donors, future board members, and other potential volunteers why supporting your nonprofit is a strong and effective investment in a cause that they may hold very dearly (but aren't connected to, yet, because they don't know about your group or misunderstand something about it). Don't fault the public if they misunderstand something about your organization or if they don't know about it. It is your organization's job to get the word out about not just your cause, but about why supporting your agency is such an effective way to make things better. Control the message by being the 'who' that is doing the talking about your organization. Even clients', board members' messages, or the messages from whomever that has experience with the organization can be controlled by the agency, by its (your nonprofit) being the 'who' that is doing the talking about your organization; by treating everyone who comes into contact with it professionally, politely, and efficiently. All volunteers, staff, leaders, etc. anyone who represents your organization in any way must be trained and held accountable to treat all contacts (even someone who donates $2) graciously and professionally. Nonprofits are places of business (no matter how small, long standing, or new) as they interact with people not involved in the organization, itself. The people who don't know about your organization or misunderstand it are an opportunity to raise more support for your organization. Be sure they hear about it and know its successes and strengths.

Follow up on this post by reading my other posts: "Why Is Marketing Important In Grant Writing?", "Received Press After You've Mailed A Few Grant Requests? Here's What To Do...", and "How Your Nonprofit's Website Can Increase The Grants Your Organization Raises"

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