No matter where you live, you’ve seen businesses big and small shift strategies, environments, personnel and target markets in an attempt to adjust (and survive) in a national recession. But shouldn’t non-profits be doing the same? I mean, really, can a non-profit afford to do “charity as usual” in one of the toughest national development climates in decades? The ones who answered that question “yes” are already out of business or on their way out.
You can spend your entire week going to live or web-based seminars telling you how to adjust, shift and reinvent your business to adapt to a new economy. However, very few are telling our vital non-profit friends how to do the same. While the information I’m going to share here wouldn’t fill a 90-minute webinar, it will, hopefully, spur some lengthy conversations at your non-profit/charity for weeks to come (hey, you’re having tons of committee and board meetings every week anyway!).
I’ll also add that there are a lot of non-profits that are already doing what I’m going to detail below (and some of those have hired us to help them do it), so if anything, this will be a list that helps validate the strident steps you’ve already taken to adjust to a new economic reality.
Ten Things Non-Profits Need to do Now to Adjust to a New Economy
1. Evaluate your leadership. If your CEO or President isn’t your chief development officer and can’t open doors or elevate current opportunities, you have the wrong person in charge. The old days of the Non-Profit CEO being a great administrator who leaves “the public stuff” to the development team and only signs direct mail is over. The successful non-profits have a dynamic and visible CEO with a very healthy Rolodex™ (do people still have those? Okay, you get what I mean). Make sure they’re adept at building new relationships and serving as your key spokesperson.
2. Evaluate and if necessary, clean house on your board. Honestly, there’s no good or easy way to do this, but purging dead weight from your board could be one of the more important things you can do this year. And you don’t have to wait until their term is up. Have frank discussions with each about your expectations for them (this rarely happens and they might actually appreciate it) and how you expect them to “work” for the organization in addition to writing occasional checks. Be specific. You might be surprised that once some of your long time and ineffective board members hear what is really expected of them, how quickly they’ll step aside for someone who can. And remember, more is not necessarily better. A board of eight to 10 hard working members who build relationships, help with fundraising and think strategically is much better than having 40 people taking up space. And like it or not (if they don’t, there’s another good reason to suggest they leave), they have to support the vision of the CEO – not fight it.
3. Market to your new donors, not your old ones. New donors for a non-profit are as important to the future of the organization as a business development pipeline is to a company that wants to grow and sustain the ups and downs of the economy. We all appreciate the person who’s written a $100 check to the organization every year for the last 10 years, but they are not your marketing target. Always make sure the money you spend externally is geared towards bringing in donors and volunteers to the organization who haven’t heard of you or given to you before. You can reach the people who have always been there through your internal communications, newsletters, etc.
4. Differentiate yourself. Who are you? Why do you do what you do? How many other organizations serve the same people you do? If the answer to the last question is one or more, you’d better find a way to merge services or figure out a way to separate yourself and develop your own value proposition immediately. Determine what it is about your organization and your target clients that are special, unique, and different. Market those differences publically. Let people know that if they don’t donate money to your organization, you won’t be able to help the specific people or communities you historically serve.
5. Make Sure Your Brand sticks out and represents your organization. I’ve seen non-profits with names longer than your arm. I’ve seen non-profits use acronyms that are totally unmemorable and incomprehensible. And I’ve seen non-profit brands that have nothing to do with the services provided by the organization. Take a long look at your brand and ask yourself;
a. Is it memorable?
b. Does it fit on a business card?
c. Do all of the people in my organization use the same one?
d. Is it distinctive?
e. When people see it, will they know what you do just from the brand?
f. Is the font and design modern enough for people to realize that you are a progressively thinking organization? (Yes, people make these positive or negative evaluations based on your logo.)
6. Use your volunteer network as ambassadors. The best way for you to build your reputation in the community is to use your volunteers to spread the word. Their active involvement will bring in new donors, other volunteers and business, churches and schools who would like to help your cause. BUT – make sure they’re all saying the same thing about who you are and who you serve. Make an effort to develop an elevator speech that you can send to them and ask that they use it when referring to your organizations. If you don’t have a volunteer network – build one.
7. Outsource, Outsource, Outsource. Non profits don’t need in-house printing equipment, web developers, graphic artists, marketing or PR folks unless you’re a very large and thriving. In the case of smaller non-profits, you don’t need in-house accounting and payroll either. Outsourcing those positions is cheaper; you only pay for what you need, no health benefits, investment plans, cell phones, computers, business cards, etc. You can save a ton (and it’s a lot easier to get rid of folks who aren’t performing) and there are a lot of highly qualified people out there willing to do work for you on a project, retainer or hourly basis whom you could not afford to hire in-house (and yes, I understand this point smacks as self-serving coming from an agency that is commonly used as outsourced PR and Marketing, but it’s all true).
8. Add value for your corporate donors. If you haven’t noticed, your large donors are expecting more than a phone call of thanks when they write you big checks. They want more. They expect more and frankly, they deserve more. What do they want?
a. Visibility at your events
b. Access to your other donors
c. Public Relations opportunities
d. Mentions in your newsletter
e. Board appointments
f. Recognition that what they gave you is meaningful
g. A detailed account of how the money was used and who or what it helped
h. And yes, they still want to be thanked personally (not by e-mail)
9. Review your event schedule. Non-profits love their fundraisers and events. Sometimes they love them so much they never evaluate them to see if they’re really something a) their donors want to attend and b) is worth the staff time invested based on the net return. Look at everything you do each year and determine the value and return. Poll your attendees and ask them if it’s an event they’d go to again and if not, what would make them come back? Is it the wrong time of year? Is it too big and too impersonal? When you factor in the cost, are there really cheaper ways to do raise money? Don’t fall in love with your events. They could all use annual scrutiny. But don’t end them without something more effective to replace them with.
10. Stop sending out press releases. Poll any reporter and they will tell you that non-profit press releases about events, check signings, hirings, etc. are at the bottom of their attention list. Build stories, pitch ideas, talk to reporters and use media alerts. But stop sending out press releases to major publications (although remember the one exception is small community papers that still run them -sometimes verbatim – because they are understaffed). And remember as well, that there are fewer newspapers out there because there are fewer people who read them. And if you’re looking to reach a donor under the age of 35 they don’t read the papers anyway.
Of course there’s a whole ‘nother list for dealing with the effective (and non-effective) use of social media and networking. But we’ll save that for another time.
For questions or comments – contact Mark Gilman at email@example.com
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