Running a nonprofit can be an incredibly rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a difference – whether you’re doing it as a full-time job or volunteer work.
But no matter how important your cause is, your nonprofit organization won’t grow without consistent, strategic efforts from your team as well as the support of your members, donors and sponsors.
Here are five tips that can help you develop more efficient management strategies and find more dedicated donors. Read on to find out how to grow small nonprofits and take your organization to greater heights.
1. Reinforce Your Organization’s Infrastructure
What kinds of organizational systems do you have in place at the moment? Are there teams that require better management or restructuring? Are your processes and policies value-adding? These are all important questions to ask yourself if you want to grow your small nonprofit.
One practical solution is to invest in software that streamlines and automates tedious tasks. For nonprofit membership organizations, nonprofit membership management software can help you keep track of members and sponsor data, send automated emails and calendar upcoming events. Not only does software like this give you more time and energy to focus on scaling up, it also makes it easier for your organization to handle a future influx of members and donors.
Here’s a tip
Learn from the pros. If you don’t quite know how to implement better, more efficient systems, consider modeling your organization after a more successful one with similar goals. Observe what works for them, as well as the kinds of approaches that ultimately prove ineffective. If possible, reach out to these bigger organizations and ask if you can interview them.
More often than not, nonprofits are willing to help other organizations establish themselves better. You can network with others to share challenges and solutions with one another. Chances are they may have experienced the same obstacles as you. Plus, you might even find opportunities to collaborate on a project. Some cities have nonprofit incubators or organizations like Mission Capital that exist to cultivate and support the nonprofit community.
Another thing you can try is to look for a mentor or a coach. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and who better to get help from than an experienced consultant.
2. Your Team (and Your Supporters) are Your Best Assets
There’s an old saying that goes, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Each and every person involved in running your nonprofit, from the executive director to the volunteers, can influence how successfully you can scale the organization.
Find good leaders and invest in your staff
From board members to committee managers, your team’s leaders should be able to set good examples to members, volunteers and supporters, as well as inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Your organization’s leaders should be the type of people who can connect with both the communities you serve and the people who could potentially become donors or sponsors.
It’s a great idea to look for professionals in the areas of accounting, legal, marketing, public relations or other fields that can provide expert guidance to your not for profit organization. In some cities there are lists of people who have an interest in serving on a nonprofit board. If your town has a community foundation or nonprofit resource center, that’s a good place to look for this list of names. Often these prospective volunteers will list their area of expertise and the types of nonprofits that interest them.
Always seek to hire people who can think on their feet, solve problems creatively and most importantly, communicate your group’s messages effectively. When it comes to your staff members, you should continually find ways to help your staff members grow. Host training seminars, send staff to professional development events, provide performance reviews and encourage your managers to mentor those that show interest and potential. You’ll be able to develop talented people who can handle leadership positions in the future.
Foster deeper relationships with your supporters
As your nonprofit continues to grow, you may find more people who are just as passionate about your cause as you and your team are. These supporters hold a lot of potential in taking your nonprofit to the next level. For example, you can ask volunteers for help when you need extra hands at fundraiser events. That way your core team can really focus on their tasks and you’ll be able to accomplish more.
You can also look into initiating an ambassador program, especially for supporters who have a wide network of followers of their own. Influencers, vloggers, community leaders – these people can add a friendly face to your organization and spread your message to a much larger audience.
3. Focus on Sustainable Fundraising
A 2012 study showed that 144 nonprofits founded from 1975 onwards in the United States had gone from founding to making at least $50 million in revenue. Of the common traits shared by these major organizations, concentrated funding was one of them. This means that many of the biggest nonprofits today honed in on one type of funding rather than diversifying efforts and wasting precious resources.
If you are new and haven’t quite figured out the best way to raise money for your nonprofit, don’t worry. Often it takes months or even years of trial and error to figure out what works best for your nonprofit. However, there are ways to be smarter about it.
For one, you can focus on transformational fundraising rather than transactional fundraising. The latter is all about exchanging donors’ money for something tangible – think selling tickets to fundraising events or holding a fundraising car wash. Transformational fundraising involves establishing meaningful and long-lasting relationships with your donors. The trick is to find donors who truly connect with and believe in your cause.
Ultimately, transformational fundraising’s advantage is that it’s sustainable with the right strategy. The best way to go about it is to keep your donors and sponsors engaged. You don’t just want them to believe in your mission and advocacy, you want them to see how their money is able to make a difference. So keep your supporters in the loop, provide ample documentation of any progress made with their contributions, and always communicate you and your beneficiaries’ gratitude.
4. Invest in Digital Marketing
For any kind of organization to grow – business, nonprofit, or otherwise – it needs to be seen and heard. One of the quickest, most cost-effective ways to spread the word about a worthy cause is through digital marketing. That includes building a good website, running email marketing campaigns, and placing engaging content and video ads on social media.
Before putting a sizable amount of money into digital marketing efforts, you first need to think about your nonprofit’s long-term goals. Do you need to drive up donations or work on member retention? Do you want to tap into new audiences or do you want to create more engagement with your current ones? Make sure you have a measurable goal and concentrate your marketing efforts there. You can do a trial run with a small investment to see if you need to tweak your messaging or call to action so that you increase engagement.
We won’t cover the nitty-gritty of digital marketing for nonprofits – that’s for another day – but we will leave you with a few marketing trends that nonprofits can adapt:
Storytelling social media apps
Let’s look at the facts: around 500 million people use Instagram Stories each day. There are 300 million daily active users on Facebook Stories. All of this is to say that social apps play a huge part in a lot of people’s daily habits. So why not take the opportunity to tell your story where you know millions of people are watching?
You can use these social media apps to introduce your advocacy efforts, show sponsors where their money goes, and engage with members and donors. Whether it’s legislative efforts, board member interviews or expert reports, you can run video content to keep supporters hooked on your channel.
Some nonprofits like TikTok, especially if the organization’s target audience is younger. Don’t waste time with TikTok unless you have enthusiastic content creators on your marketing team who are adept at creating fun and potentially viral videos. These videos don’t require a lot of editing and post production work.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised at how many nonprofits forget this hack. According to Campaign Monitor, “Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened”.
But personalized emails are about so much more than just getting the recipient’s name or business right. You can create persona profiles for your target audience and segment your email lists accordingly. There are many different ways you can segment your recipients and increase personalization. For example, you can tag and group email list members into categories such as committee members, volunteers, scholarship donors or sponsors from a specific event. That way email recipients don’t feel like they’ve received another mass email.
Live-streaming (and video conferencing) on social media became the unexpected hero of marketing this year. As we’re spending more time at home due to Covid-19, we’ve learned to appreciate just how versatile this service can be. Nonprofits can host fundraising concerts, virtual dance parties, book readings and competitions, or provide value-added content such as interviews, panel discussions and webinars. We think live-streaming is here to stay long-term, even well after the global pandemic is over.
Let’s look at how a nonprofit might leverage this technology. An organization whose brand aligns with online gaming — such as a gamer’s club or perhaps an education-focused charity that teaches kids to code — can partner with popular gamers who live-stream their games. Twitch, arguably the most popular live-streaming social network for games, reported that streams broadcasted on their platform in 2017 alone raised over $30 million for charity. If your goal is to increase memberships, you could leverage this exposure to increase interest in building a membership base as opposed to raising charitable funds. While this example may not be relevant to your nonprofit, the concept of looking for unexpected and emerging ways to reach your audience is universally relevant.
5. Be Transparent About Your Finances
To grow a small nonprofit, you need to consistently prove that your organization is trustworthy.
As a group that relies on the generosity of members, sponsors, donors and volunteers, your image must be built on transparency. A successful nonprofit can earn millions of dollars from memberships, donations and fundraising events, but you need to assure your supporters that every last cent is going toward a good cause or common purpose. In doing so, you solidify your relationships with your current constituents and prove to potential members and other contributors that you put your money where your mouth is.
So how can you maintain transparency in your nonprofit organization?
Publish an annual report
Whether you’ve raised $10,000 or $10 million, it’s essential that your organization releases a financial report each year. A good financial report offers a window into the financial situation of your nonprofit organization. Here are some best practices to remember when writing your report:
- Establish a clear mission. Yes, an annual report’s main purpose is to inform members, donors and supporters about how you’ve been spending their money in the past year. However, you can also use your report to underscore the performance of a new project, highlight the expertise of your team members or reveal how much of an impact you’ve been able to make in your advocacy on behalf of your constituents.
- Discuss the highlights, achievements, and challenges of each project. Dedicate a page or two to every project you’ve undertaken throughout the year. Shine a light on each project’s main purpose, beneficiaries, members, donors and overall success. If you like, you can discuss challenges you faced as well – this shows that you’re open to feedback and criticism. It also shows that you’re humble enough to learn and grow from your experiences.
- Give a breakdown of your earnings and expenses. No one makes a financial report without actually reporting on the finances. Provide a clear, detailed, and honest breakdown of your financial activity throughout the year, from money earned through donations to the cost of each project.
- Thank your donors and collaborators. Never forget to express gratitude to all the individuals and groups that helped you get where you are today. Keep a good relationship with your members and sponsors and you’ll likely see them coming back to help again.
Tell your story
Let’s face it, it isn’t always easy to convince someone to read annual reports and financial statements. Another way to maintain transparency in your nonprofit is to consistently update your website and social media pages about what you’ve been up to. Upload photos and blogs about recent events, post stories and videos showing donor contributions in action, highlight member successes or even talk about internal activities and news such as board member placements.
The important thing for all nonprofits is to harness available platforms to own your story.
You can’t grow a small nonprofit overnight. Growth is gained through continuous efforts to build the trust of your supporters, so harness the potential of your team members and be open and adaptive to change. Of course nothing is as important to nonprofit growth as their mission statement. As long as you continue to set your sights on why you do what you do, you’re halfway there.