Sunday, January 11, 2009

Save Your Nonprofit Money, Raise More Money, and Succeed - Yes, Now

Since getting back to work this new year, I am sure that your nonprofit is in the midst of making adjustments to survive this tough economy. You are probably also starting your organization's new programs and hoping to get as many new good volunteers that your group can (who couldn't use more good talented free help?!). Fundraising is probably stagnant or maybe even down. Your board may be fidgeting and your bookkeeper and CPA are probably wringing their hands. It is a tense time for all of us.

I can't recommend enough that your organization take stock now. If the organization does not know where it stands - it is truly wishful or even blind to plan or innovate and expect effective, efficient, or organization-saving methods or programs.

In my previous post, Nonprofit New Years Resolutions That Will Make Your Nonprofit A Better One ... I suggest that each organizational body, staff, and even volunteer and their potential, skills, and successes be compared to the work that is expected of them short and long term. The constant to keep in mind is that no one person (even you) or group of people (even the group you're in) or politics, policy, etc. in this organization is more important than the mission statement and the benefactors of your organization's work. If you and your colleagues can agree to put the mission and beneficiaries first - and then objectively and as honestly as possible assess one another, fairly, in comparison to each person's respective expected success - adjustments can be made, where necessary, to make success more likely. For instance, maybe a good employee or volunteer who is only falling short in one area can go through training or they can attend a course; or shadow a colleague who is successful at the necessary work, etc. For training ideas read our post, Places, Resources, and Ways To Learn Everything From Fundraising To Other Nonprofit Operations (Some Are Free)

I recommend, too, that you analyze each of your income streams. If today your organization has one way that it raises money or if it has fifteen different fundraising methods and events that it holds annually, analyze each. Do the analysis to determine each method's success rate, rate of total raised increased year to year, cost/benefit analysis to conduct the method, attendance rate year to year, etc. Maybe you should shop the current vendors' prices, that you work with, and see if you can cut costs by working with others who are just as good but cheaper. Also review your regular donors' giving (the donors who are individuals, families, and even local businesses that have donated once or twice recently). Break out how much these donors have given over the last two years and ask who is giving in larger amounts, consistently? These folks could be developed as your organization's major donors (if they aren't, already). If they are already being developed, set a realistic but higher bar than last year's for them to give at this year and work with them to achieve this goal. For the other regular donors, ask yourself why, in general, they value your organization in particular and then capitalize on that. Perhaps your organization is the only one, locally, working on your cause? Or, maybe your agency has served a lot of their family members in some way? Or perhaps your agency works in a very unique niche in your field of work. Capitalize on this connection that they have with your nonprofit by giving them more reason to want to support your agency (e.g. your success rate at what they connect with or upcoming new programs, etc.). Communicate with them, listen to them, and thank them. Consider which fundraising methods your organization hasn't recently used and ask yourself - is there one or two that we should be learning about to consider implementing? Look at other nonprofits that serve the same geographic region as yours' does, who also work on the same or similar cause as your group's, and review their annual reports. You could conduct a few different analyses. You can see which donors your group shares with theirs and look at how much they gave to other organizations last year. You can also compare your fundraising success (total raised in different giving tier levels) to theirs' and determine from that what more fundraising your group can realistically do in its own geographic region, you can also compare which methods of fundraising these other agencies are using compared to yours, and so on. I am not suggesting, here, that you should be doing what others are or that all nonprofits should do the same thing. What I am suggesting is that if you do analysis on your own organization's revenue streams and use that to better the organization; but then also compare your agency's success rate and methods to other organizations - you can easily see where your work may improve. If you aren't self analyzing your organization's work and success rate or noting what other nonprofits in your region who work on the same cause are doing - you are not in touch with your professional field or colleagues and their work; or your own organization's. For professionally acclaimed free training in various nonprofit fundraising methods, cost cutting ideas, and free nonprofit resources, see our post, Basic Grant Writing 101 and Other Ideas To Survive This Tough Economy

In these tough times - it is not all doom and gloom. And you aren't alone.

We are in the midst of beginnings...

We are almost half way through the first month of 2009; a week from Tuesday our nation inaugurates our new President; Americans in all sectors are innovating (perhaps more than we have collectively, since World War II) to create new jobs, improve this nation's failing infrastructure, develop brazen new solutions to the warming climate and shifting environments, create modes of transportation that will impact the environment less, develop forms of energy that burn more efficiently than natural gas or coal and are also less harmful to the environment; and as I've written, here, the nonprofit sector is no different. Adversity, such as an exceptionally tough economy and fundraising climate, forces unity and innovation - and I'm certain some great new professional nonprofit best practices will come from this down time, and they will have sprung from necessity - perhaps to answer questions such as 'what does a nonprofit do to survive, in a slowing economy?'.

I admit to being an idealist and I am certain that you and the organization that you work for have been perhaps more stressed than you have ever been knitting your brows trying to develop survival methods that will work. As I've said in my past two posts, here: we nonprofit volunteers and staff are in this together, town to city, city to state, state to state, and even nation to nation around the world. We can, as people working in the same field, come together to dream up solutions together. We aren't all competing for the same single dollar if you stop to consider that each and every cause that we work for exists in this world whether nonprofit staff and volunteers from different organizations sit down together or not. In other words - there are millions of causes and millions of donors and each are interested in different causes but many donors give to more than one nonprofit, annually(even now). So, yes, we can sit down together in a grange, down the road; or in a library conference room downtown; or in a major city to bring many organizations from cities across different states to work together to develop mutually beneficial solutions. If we can innovate and help people suffering from cancer, help lessen the depletion of the oceans' fisheries, and assist over one hundred elementaries to better feed their students - then many nonprofits' missions and constituents are going to be better served (instead of potentially losing the nonprofit that has taken up their fight).


Scott said...

Well said Arlene!

These are difficult times for us all that work in and around the nonprofit sector but together we can reach new heights out of neccessity.

Like us there are millions of people around the globe that are looking for our country to lead the way and we will see an extroardianry amount of unity and innovation come from within our very own industry.

It will not be easy as you have said Arlene and now is the time to analyze and innovate to acheive the goals that we develope from our strategic approach to social and environmental issues.

Thanks for the post it was most inspiring!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Scott, Thank you for reading and for your feedback. I know these are exceptional times but I also have such faith in the power of community that this is something that we can use to our profession's advantage. Happy new year, Arlene