Monday, July 27, 2009

The Nonprofit That Understands That Without A Strong Relationship With It's Community, It Stumbles - Is the Nonprofit That Succeeds

When anyone discusses nonprofit operations or nonprofit fundraising and says something to the effect of, 'nonprofits do not operate in a vacuum; they exist, grow, and succeed only by working with the communities that they serve' the key word in the concept is 'with'. Without a community's support, repeated support (actually), a nonprofit does not grow and succeed.

If a nonprofit does not provide a service or product (a real solution that works) for the community issue it is focused on (e.g. hunger prevention, elderly day care, animal welfare, clothing low income children and families, protecting the environment, etc.) in an efficient, ethical, honest, skilled, current, and effective manner - over time they will eventually languish (as an operation) if not altogether close.

Also, if a nonprofit does not actively get the word out about the nonprofit (its name, its mission, why its work is still need (how current the organization's effort is) and also share the organization's successes, accolades, and its potential; then potential (new) donors, volunteers, board members, etc. won't know about the organization and then can not support it. Do not assume everyone in the geographic region knows about your organization and its work. Proactively spend money on public relations and marketing (even if it's a small amount, annually, for each) and consider it overhead expense for any one of the organization's operations: fundraising, program development, board recruitment, etc. The money that any nonprofit spends on proactively getting the facts out about the organization is an investment not just in its growth and future - it can help raise more money (even if the PR or marketing is non-campaign specific); it will help make people who care about the cause that your agency serves become aware of the nonprofit and that will lead to new donors (remember, the key to donor base growth is to both retain the current donors, get them to donate again and again, and then raise new donors who become regular donors).

These two paragraphs, above, demonstrate some of the reasons why understanding that any nonprofit (even yours') is not an island unto itself, nor is it "self sufficient" (no nonprofit that operates well truly is). Every nonprofit works in partnership with its community because without donors (individuals, families, local businesses, local branches of national companies and stores, etc.), without volunteers (individuals, families, local companies' employees and retirees, etc.), without sponsors (who are donating donations), without community collaborations (with other separate organizations (non- or for- profit)) and community partners, or without basic services that any organization needs (e.g. banking, accounting, etc.) a nonprofit (any nonprofit) will not survive.

Donors, today, are not simply seen as 'the next someone that I need to drag a donation out of so then I can spend their money however I see fit'. Donations, today, are understood to be 'someone else's money who have a specific goal that they expect to achieve in the community, at large'. Donors, themselves, are seen today as 'partner investors' who (no matter who or what they are; individuals, families, community foundations, private foundations, corporate foundations, or any government) are first, and foremost, understood to be as concerned about the issue that your organization works for as anyone at your agency is. They donate, not because they have the money and need to blow through it willy-nilly, and they donate not just because of the tax break (studies show, again and again, even in this down economy); donors donate because they want to find solutions to problems in our communities, often they themselves have some relationship to the cause or issue (have worked professionally in that field, or have been effected by the issue, etc.), and have the resources to effect change as a donor. They, therefore, must find nonprofits who serve the cause or issue that they care about to make their dollars do the good that they seek. These intelligent concerned donors consider their donation dollars with the weight of gold by researching nonprofits working on the same issue to determine who they are willing to donate to. Which nonprofit operates: transparently (provides its financials to anyone who asks for them), that operates honestly (reports on the good and also lessons that the agency has learned with the goal to improve and achieve more), efficiently (the agency actively plans and weighs options so that no resources are wasted, etc.), has a volunteer base and staff that demonstrates the latest best professional thinking and methods in the professional field (demonstrating the potential for real success that this agency retains), works with like or related other organizations in the community to be sure it (itself) does not repeat methods' or theories' work already being done or work that has already been attempted but did not result in successes, etc. They are looking for the smartest, most efficient, most successful, and most talented nonprofit working on the cause to spend their money the most wisely. Donors, today, also want to see results. They expect to know where their donation dollar was spent (truthfully) and what was achieved (including lessons learned and where improvements will be made to insure more success the next time that the program is implemented, etc.). If, as a nonprofit, your agency embraces, nay expects, donors to behave in these manners and follows through to interact with the community it operates in to meet these community members at every step of the way then it is setting itself to increase income, increase the number of volunteers, improve the talent volunteering and working for the organization, lessen expenses, and improve programs.

See, professional nonprofit best practices, are really just the tried and true methods, thinking, and interactions between a nonprofit and its community that are not just thought of as 'better, so do them'. Professional nonprofit best practices are actually the methods, thinking, and interactions that have demonstrated again and again for thousands and millions of nonprofits (or donors) that these methods provide real efficient results for the better in the world.

Any nonprofit whose leadership sees themselves as elite compared to others, or are on the board to pad their resume's, or any nonprofit that can't interact with other organizations (nonprofit or for-profit) because it is regarded as a threat or is considered threatening - these antiquated modes of interacting in the community are red flags to donors, potential volunteers, and the community that this particular nonprofit doesn't get it. The nonprofit that understands that its only life-blood is the community it is working in and that they had better bet grateful, be gracious, be talented and effective, and operate efficiently will grow, succeed, and thrive.


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