Sunday, April 26, 2009

To Improve Your Nonprofit, Do What Nonprofits That Are Surviving This Economy Are Doing

Nonprofits who are needing and wanting to increase the services that they provide, improve those services, and increase community support (such as donations and numbers of volunteers) need to do exactly what those organizations who are surviving this down economy are doing. Successful nonprofits operate using professional nonprofit best practices.

Best practices are methods, findings after research studies, operations, and concepts that have both been used by one or more nonprofits and determined to be effective at their intended outcome. When I say that nonprofit methods, findings after studies, operations, or concepts are "determined to be effective at their intended outcome", what I mean is that the intention was to get from point A to point B and achieve or do something. The goal was to do that something (e.g. fundraise, design programs, recruit board members, etc.) in the most effective, efficient, proactive, support-inducing way possible. Why? All of the following: the less money spent on overhead or operations, the more support that can be engendered in a community, the clearer the organization's vision is when expressed to the community the more that is done, by the nonprofit, that will increase the organization's visibility and accessibility in the community, through this one single action, the better for the beneficiaries of the nonprofit's work. This amplified outcome of one action, conducted using today's best practices, increases the outcome (per the organization's goals) beyond the need to get from A to B, while costing less than' just doing things the way we've always done them just because that's how we do them'. That amplitude is a huge asset to a nonprofit because notoriously, nonprofits have less resources, liquidity, or boots on the ground. Yet, so much can be done beyond the one task, if best practices are utilized. Best practices are called such because they've been found to not just work better for one nonprofit, but for many, if not all nonprofits that have implemented them. Best practices are tried and repeated professional methods to conduct all of the different kinds of work that any nonprofit must do to operate (e.g. design programs, recruit board members and volunteers, raise community support and buy - in, etc.). Nonprofits of all ages, sizes, from start up to long established organizations benefit from operating through best practices. There is no minimum requirement for any organization to operate better, succeed more, and be more efficient!

Now, consider the last time that you donated. Think about the last time that you donated a donation to a nonprofit other than the nonprofit that you work with. It's important that you do this exercise thinking about a donor experience with another nonprofit. Take three minutes and do this exercise by answering the following 5 questions, on a piece of paper. After, reflect on your answers and ask yourself the final 2 questions, below.
Donor Experience Exercise:
1. Why did you give a donation to THAT specific nonprofit? List all of the reasons that you can think of.
2. What did you think or understand that your money would do and go to? Why did you think that? Again, list all of the reasons that you can.
3. After you donated did you get a thank you and confirmation that your donation was received AND spent or used?
4. If so, was the donation used or spent as you thought it would be?
5. Based on this one donor experience, will you give to that nonprofit, again? If yes, why? If no, why not? Again, list all reasons.

Now that you've finished these five questions of this exercise, ask yourself the following two, based on the answers to the above five questions.
1. Do you still see the nonprofit, now, the same was as you did before you donated? This next question is extremely important - if yes, why? Or, if no, why? The lesson in answering this question is to learn that every time anyone outside a nonprofit interacts with a nonprofit - it is an opportunity to engender and retain some one's buy in who supports the organization's work, sees that the need in the community that the nonprofit serves is real and unmet, and is willing to give. This kind of community support CAN NOT be squandered. No nonprofit can afford to take their donors' (or volunteers') contributions lightly or without thanks. Without community a nonprofit will fail because no nonprofit can survive in a void. A nonprofit organization's successes, therefore, are also its' donors', volunteers', and community partners' successes.

2. Did your donation go where you thought it would go? Was it used to do what you thought it would be used for? Again, if yes, how were you made aware of that? If no, is it because you were never told how your contribution was used or is it because it was not used how you thought it would be? The lesson to garner, here, is that anyone who contributes anything is offering their support with an assumption that it will be used towards the goal of the organization's work for the mission statement. If you are spending most money on overhead expense, you're alienating contributors. Or, if you are not letting donors, volunteers, and community partners know what their assistance does or has done - you are not ensuring confidence, further interest in supporting your group again, or community buy in. These could be engendered by simply sending a clear, thoughtful, and explanatory note or letter; or even placing a 'thank you' ad in the local paper or your newsletter. The one time support but also the likelihood for further support, in the future, is invaluable to any nonprofit. [End of the Donor Exercise]

The following is the Top 10 ways to conduct your organization according to best practices. This kind of operation leads to more success more often, and helps nonprofits weather down economies better than other nonprofits, not using best practices.

10. Contact the press and media within the community each and every time your organization meets a benchmark in the organization's work, achieves programmatic successes, or raises unprecedented support. Tooting your horn when your organization succeeds engenders confidence in the organization's leadership, confidence that the agency is succeeding at its work and meeting the need in the community that it exists to, and that the nonprofit isn't failing or closing any time soon. No one wants to donate to a nonprofit that has operations, fundraising, or programs problems. Communities support success.
9. Share your organization's name, work, and recent achievements and successes every chance that you have the floor in front of folks outside of the agency. Make sure that you staff, board, and other representatives know their personal elevator speeches about your organization and use them often and regularly. It's the best free PR and marketing that there is.
8. Succeed at and regularly evaluate and improve your agency's programs and services.
7. Listen to the beneficiaries of your nonprofit's work. If there is a new or recently new need in their world that is related to your nonprofit's mission but you aren't taking note or hearing them - your nonprofit and its work are already outdated and that is potentially lethal for any organization that needs its community's support to survive. Make sure that your agency is meeting a real unmet need in the community. Be current and relevant. Take note of reputable and recent studies' findings in your agency's profession. Note what recent articles are stating about the beneficiaries. Finally, always ask for the beneficiaries' feedback and don't just "listen" to them; HEAR them.
6. There is no "me" or "mine" in the word "nonprofit". Be sure that as a leader or as the executive running the organization, you have separated yourself from the nonprofit. Each legal nonprofit is its own stand-alone entity (as the IRS has given it its official nonprofit designation, its own tax identification number, and as it is a legal employer as any for-profit company is). You, and no one owns, is entitled to, or is due any 'ownership' or entitlement because they may have founded or because they run the organization. Each nonprofit is the 'property' of no one and exists in its own right, with its own future, only beholden to achieve success in the community by succeeding at its mission statement. It's leadership should be singularly focused on mission success and what is in the best interest of the nonprofit per its mission statement, and not on any one or few people. Entitled leadership must get out of their own way so that they can conduct the nonprofit professionally, ethically, and such that the organization is instead all about the community that empowers the nonprofit to succeed (it isn't about you or your friend or family).
5. Recruit the best and provide for them and empower them so that they stay. Recruitment and retention of excellent board members, volunteers, and staff is one of the best ways to strengthen a nonprofit's future. With talent, experience, credentials, connections, and potential - any nonprofit (again, of any size or age) can grow and achieve successes in all aspects of its operations. In any economy, but especially during a down economy, a nonprofit's credibility, mission success, and ability to engender confidence is EVERYTHING. These three attributes, when obtained, are invaluable to raise more and better support, volunteers, access, and more.
4. Operate the organization transparently. Provide truth in accounting and share financials and tax returns to allow potential donors and community collaborators that your organization is honest, efficient, professional, and open. No one wants to invest or support a shady nonprofit. Transparency provides an opportunity to engender confidence in how your agency is run.
3. See the volunteers, donors, staff, clientele or beneficiaries, and board members of a whole community. Each nonprofit forms a community of its own. The community that causes the nonprofit to exist, operate, and succeed is, actually, a team. Without the team (or community) no nonprofit can succeed. You need them to operate and grow, and the community needs the nonprofit's successes and achievements to meet the unmet need in the community that it serves.
2. Get out of the office. As the executive director, board or head staff member of a nonprofit's department - it is important that you give the nonprofit's name, work, and achievements a voice within the community. Network, consider potential co-collaborators or partners in your work, provide potential donors with information and answer their questions, listen to others so that you are aware of what other nonprofits are doing (for example, to survive this economy), and make sure that others have your card.
1. Succeed. If your agency is not succeeding at the work of its mission it may be time for training, re-evaluating the need in the community, re-evaluating the organization's work, or to fire and hire new talent, or more. Know the mission. Foster a culture of mission-based decision making (not decision making based on insecurities, limits, unwillingness to try new things, ego, personal agendas, entitlement, etc.). Be sure that the leadership has provided a clear and current mission-based vision for the organization. Plan ahead, staff and implement, review expected outcomes to compare them against participants' feedback, evaluate results, and make improvements and repeat. The only thing that a nonprofit exists to do is to provide real excellent solutions to unmet problems.

To learn best practices, read this post to get leads on what reputable good resources exist Some Free Resources...

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