Monday, November 10, 2008

Top 10 Ways To Take That Nonprofit's Fundraising To The Next Level

Top ten ways to get your nonprofit onto the next stage to grow its fundraising:

10. Hold yourself accountable. If YOU (not the executive director, the board president, or that key volunteer) don't know how to do any of of the specialized, professional, and unique operations tasks to run a nonprofit, fundraise, write the bylaws, run a board, create a new fundraising method, etc. that is fine. It's not 'fine', though, to simply assume that 'oh...we're small so...' or 'I've been doing this for a while, now, so...', or 'I've been a success in the for profit world...' '...we don't need to know the latest best practices in professional nonprofit operations or skills'. If you haven't spent at least two successful professional years working for a well run, established, successful nonprofit - consider yourself primed to learn.

9. Get organized. If you don't know how this nonprofit has (insert operation, here) conducted a specific regular annual fundraiser, developed the board and staff relationship, recruited volunteers, etc. then research within the nonprofit. Talk with former volunteers and staff, talk with current volunteers and staff, research meeting minutes and files or notebooks, ask others in the community what they know about the organization and listen. If no one knows anything then it's a huge hint that you need to both instigate internal protocols and systems that work, and your organization needs to make it clear to its community what its name is, what it does, and why.

8. Evaluate. If you hold any fundraising event or use any fundraising method (e.g. a golf tournament or donation remittance envelopes), research and learn a way to check every year (or whenever you hold the fundraiser) how the fundraiser is doing. Is it raising money? Is it reaching new people each year while retaining former donors? Is it making it clear what your organization does, for whom, how, and why? Is it a cost effective method to raise money? If you don't check each time you use the method or hold the event, then how can you guarantee your volunteers and donors that their time and money is going towards the cause that your mission serves? Learn modern, professional, effective nonprofit evaluation methods that work and use them not just in your grant proposals (to evaluate new programs or projects) but in your fundraising, too.

7. Market your organization. How? Just insert into your current organization pamphlet, your website, on your volunteer applications, or anywhere that the public learns about your organization the organization's: name, mission statement, recent mission based work success rates (e.g. program stats), your current 2 - 5 year goals, and any other big recent successes. Keep this current and update it every six months or so. Make it clear to any kind of potential investor (either a current or future donor, or a current or future volunteer) why they should work for your nonprofit; and because it succeeds at meeting its mission goal; because your organization runs well and plans its future (setting realistic goals that your organization is investing in).

6. Be certain that all of the nonprofit's leadership (e.g. volunteer and staff such as the executive director, all of the board members, trustees, etc. and even key major donors) have an elevator speech. What's an elevator speech? It's the sentence or two that anyone uses to respond when someone in the nonprofit's community asks, 'why do you volunteer for, work for, or donate to (insert your organization's name, here)?' When anyone asks about the nonprofit it is an OPPORTUNITY to be certain that the correct message gets out to the public about the organization. For instance, take time in a staff, volunteers', or board meeting to find out what each person who represents the nonprofit (in any way) says when asked this question (or the question 'I've never heard of that nonprofit. What do you folks do?'). Listen to one another's elevator speeches. Then, together, talk about what is true about them and what could be clarified or improved. No one needs to memorize a cold, single description that is repeated like some robot's message. Everyone, when speaking about the organization, should be encouraged to talk from the heart (there are not salesly schmoozey goals here). The elevator speech should be no more than a few sentences. But, every time anyone asks about the organization, all representatives of it should take that as an opportunity to get the organization, its work, and its successes into one more community member's mind. You never know: you may be talking to a future donor, future volunteer, or a potential major donor!

5. I usually encourage all leaders of any nonprofit (including the executive director and the board and other key volunteers) to accept that at least half of their job is to raise funds. I know that no one gets into a nonprofit to fundraise. People become active in the nonprofit sector because they're passionate about an issue, cause, art, etc. The fact is, though, that if ALL of the organization's leadership (and administrative staff or volunteers) do not each and all work together to raise money, every day, every month, year to year; cash flow will not become steady, nor will it grow. Nonprofits operate on donations and the lifeblood of a growing organization is a committed, educated, practiced group of volunteers (and staff) who are actively always fundraising.

4. Be certain that the organization has an annual fundraising plan (also called a Development Plan) that is conducted, evaluated, improved, and grown year to year. The key to investing in anything (for future benefit) is to diversify. It is no different in fundraising. If your organization only has one or three fundraisers, each year, and isn't growing the fundraising; how will your organization increase it's 'income'? Successful nonprofits know that, year to year, some fundraisers may wane, and other fundraising events will become popular. Do not assume that you know which will be which. Hedge your organization's risks and diversify where money comes from and in what manner. Also, listen to donors and potential donors. If the organization's been holding some fundraiser, annually, for five years and people aren't enjoying it anymore - then listen, plan a new event, and move on!

3. The nonprofit is the thing. The mission statement, the bylaws, the organization's goals, and the growth and future of the nonprofit are the most important aspects of working for any nonprofit. Your ego, your insecurities, your circle of friends or family, your professional goals, etc. are not the thing. All decision making should be made (by leaders and key staff) with the mission statement, the beneficiary(ies) of the organization's work, and the organization's health and growth in mind. Always do what is best for the organization, based on its mission statement. Don't talk yourself or anyone else into serving the organization but really put something else first (e.g. your insecurities, your need to control, wanting to avoid working with a complete and not-family, not-friends board, etc.).

2. Be professional. Nonprofits require specialized, unique, and modern skills. No one just knows how to run a nonprofit. Time and money are saved when key leaders take it upon themselves to learn the best and latest. Also, treat anyone who comes into contact with the nonprofit (in whatever manner or location; a brochure, a walk in, at a conference, etc.) with courtesy, respect, and listen to them. ALWAYS be polite to volunteers, staff, donors, potential volunteers, and potential donors. How will you know who's who? You don't! That's the point. Everyone representing your organization must be trained and held accountable for how they represent the nonprofit (including inter-personal interaction). Do not assume that everyone is treating donors well, for instance. Be certain they are by training and implementing specific guidelines and professional standards.

1. Listen. Above all, the number one way to learn what is going on 'right now' in any aspect of the nonprofit's operations, future, evaluations, etc. is to listen. If you ask for feedback or if you conduct a survey amongst your clients; your organization has an opportunity to learn and improve what it's doing. Listening doesn't just improve programs, it saves money and time.


Videohead said...

Wow! That kicked my @$$!
We're doing a pretty capable job growing our small non-profit, but we are maybe doing 2 of these 10.
I agree that they are all best practices that we'd like to aspire to. Any ideas about how to squeeze these into our already bust calendar?

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Dear Videohead,
I'm glad to have made some suggestions if I've helped! I understand your question and it's a point well taken. These are tough times meaning everyone is needing more out of all organizations' resources: staff, volunteers, money, and time. A couple of suggestions: lessen work weeks by one day but increase the remaining work days by an hour; increase the number of volunteers (but be certain they are experienced, capable, committed worker bees); ask a wealthy regular donor or two to lunch and ask them if they can donate a larger contribution right now - specific to these tough times; job sharing (even between qualified and talented volunteers and staff); ask local businesses for resources such as in kind items or services/consultation contributions; create a "co-op" of similar nonprofits to buy office supplies, etc. with and go in together on purchases while asking for a bulk rate discount that all of the organizations can share to lessen costs; ask more of volunteers who haven't been super active (including Board members); etc.

I hope I've helped! Best of luck, Arlene