Last week I led a planning call among the panelists on the “Supporting Nonprofit Sustainability” session I am moderating at April’s Center for Effective Philanthropy conference (which I described in an earlier post). One of the panelist suggested that we start the session by defining what we mean by “nonprofit sustainability.”
As we started to discuss this, it quickly became apparent that some of us had different definitions of “nonprofit sustainability.” And indeed, in the social change sector more broadly there is a long list of definitions of nonprofit sustainability.
Sometimes people use “nonprofit sustainability” to mean nonprofits moving away from private philanthropy and becoming self-sufficient through earned income sources (the sale of goods or services). I don’t believe that that is ever possible. Nonprofits are often borne as a response to a disequilibrium that the market created (income inequality, racial injustice, failing education). So it is rare that a nonprofit can figure out a way to make the market pay for something that it created. The vast majority of nonprofits will never be fully self-sustaining through earned income efforts; rather they will always be subsidized by non-earned sources, like philanthropy and government.
Others define “nonprofit sustainability” as the ability to attract multi-year, unrestricted funding. While that would be a positive step, foundations are largely the only nonprofit funding source able or willing to make unrestricted, multi-year commitments. Government funding is never unrestricted, and individuals rarely make multi-year commitments. And even if all foundation funders made these commitments, foundation funding only ever totals 2-3% of all of the revenue flowing to the nonprofit sector. So that’s not a big enough piece of the pie to ensure nonprofit sustainability.
Still others talk about “nonprofit sustainability” as having a diversified revenue stream. It may make sense for some nonprofits to focus on one or two revenue streams if that’s where their core competencies lie. So it is not a foregone conclusion that revenue diversification fits every nonprofit business model.
And other people define “nonprofit sustainability” as understanding and funding a nonprofit’s full costs, including direct and indirect costs. While this is absolutely a part of nonprofit sustainability, I don’t think it tells the whole story.
Therefore, none of these definitions of nonprofit sustainability satisfy me. They are either two narrow, too unrealistic, or inaccurate.
My definition, then, is:
Nonprofit sustainability occurs when a nonprofit attracts and effectively uses
enough and the right kinds of money necessary to achieve their long-term outcome goals.
So to break that down, nonprofit sustainability includes these elements:
Knowing Your Long-Term Outcome Goals
To be sustainable, a nonprofit must articulate the long-term outcomes that they are ultimately trying to accomplish (through a Theory of Change). You cannot hope to be sustainable if you can’t articulate why you exist and what you ultimately want to accomplish as a social change organization.
Having a Strategy to Achieve Those Goals
And you won’t achieve those outcomes (and be sustainable) if you don’t have a long-term strategy to get there. The strategy doesn’t have to be set in stone — it should be malleable as internal and external circumstances change — but it should ultimately guide your course to achieving those outcome goals.
Effectively Using Enough Money
But its not enough to simply plan for the future, you must then figure out what staff, board, volunteers, systems, technology, marketing, and other resources you need to bring your strategy to fruition. You must articulate the business model you will employ, and the corresponding money required, to realize your long-term outcome goals. And I don’t mean the band-aid version — I mean what it will really take to achieve the long-term outcomes you seek.
Attracting the Right Kinds of Money
But it’s also not enough to figure out what it’s going to cost. You have to figure out the other side of the money equation, which is how to bring that money in the door. A smart financial strategy attracts money that is the right fit for your organization. You have to be strategic (not reactive) about how money flows to the organization (fundraising, government grants, earned income). It might be that you focus solely on private sources, or you may have a mix of government and earned sources. But your financial model must align with your core competencies and your mission.
Nonprofit sustainability means that a nonprofit board and staff know what they want to accomplish, develop a smart strategy and business model, and use money as a tool to make it happen.
But nonprofit sustainability should not be up to just nonprofit leaders to figure out. Anyone who wants to realize social change (the government, private funders, social change leaders) must advocate for and support more sustainability in the sector. It must be a larger conversation. I hope that conversation grows far beyond the CEP conference in April.
Photo Credit: Philip Taylor
I was speaking to a group of nonprofit leaders recently about how to Move from Fundraising to Financing, and when I came to the part about events, the room went predictably quiet. Looks of shock shot around the room. Events are so ubiquitous in the nonprofit sector, how could I possibly say they have little financial value? It was heresy.
For the most part, when you factor in the direct (food, venue, invites, entertainment) and indirect (staff, board and volunteer time) costs of an event, you either break even (best case) or lose money (worst case). The error many nonprofit leaders (board and staff alike) make is looking only at the gross revenue of an event (“We made $50,000!”) as opposed to the net revenue (“After factoring in expenses, we actually only made $20,000 on that event…”) and the cost to raise a dollar (“Whoa, it cost us $1.50 to raise $1.00 at that event!”).
Because it was a group of nonprofit leaders, they remained polite despite their disbelief (God love them!). But they did argue with me, and here is how I responded to each of their refutations:
“Board and staff time aren’t event expenses.”
The argument is that since staff salaries are a fixed expense and board (and other volunteer) time costs nothing, you shouldn’t include these items as event expenses. But you absolutely should. Every resource a nonprofit has (especially board and staff time) is limited. When you ask a board member to spend 20 hours volunteering to put on and attend an event, that is 20 hours of their time you can’t use in other (more profitable) ways. This is the idea of opportunity costs. As a nonprofit leader you want to make sure you are putting each resource to its highest and best use.
“Even if an event isn’t financially profitable, it raises awareness.”
I know I’m on a “raising awareness” rampage lately, but an expensive and time consuming activity like an event should never have such a vague goal guiding it. Awareness is not a real, tangible financial result. Awareness does not equal action, and it certainly doesn’t equal money. An event attendee’s vague sense of having had a good time quickly dissipates. Instead of trying to raise awareness, create a real strategy for getting in front of and encouraging action from your target funders.
“But our event builds our brand.”
Building your brand is about as meaningless as raising awareness. Forget the marketing jargon, the word “brand” is just a fancy word for what people think of your organization. I know this is blasphemy, but it simply doesn’t matter what people who are not in your target audience(s) think about your organization. In reality you only want to “build your brand” among those you are specifically targeting. So segment the market, figure out your target audiences, and then find cheaper, more specific ways to get them to act.
“We use events to connect with major donors”
Yes, now you are on to something. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that you should never host events. To the contrary, there absolutely are times when events make sense. When events are mission-focused, free to attend, and focused on cultivating and/or stewarding current or potential major donors (individuals, foundations, corporate leaders) they can make a lot of sense. But ONLY if you follow up with attendees on a one-on-one basis to further invest them in the organization and eventually ask them to contribute or renew their contributions. And ONLY if you don’t charge them to attend so that you can ask them for a bigger, and more meaningful gift down the road.
I stand by my claim: nonprofit events are not efficient fundraisers. Do the math on your events and see if they generate a positive cost to raise a dollar. If not, you should restructure or abandon them. But don’t continue doing something you hope is making money when it isn’t.
Photo Credit: Graham-Killers
My hope in creating the growing library of Social Velocity videos is that nonprofit leaders will use the topics as a jumping off point for honest discussions with boards and donors. It can often be intimidating for a nonprofit leader to raise a controversial question like:
- “Should all board members be required to fundraise?”
- “Should we stop worrying about program vs. overhead expenses?”
- “How do we get our board more engaged?“
A nonprofit leader could set aside 30 minutes in a board meeting agenda for a discussion kicked off by a 2-minute video. Play a video, and then simply ask “What do you think?” Or you could show a video to a donor when you meet and ask for their opinion.
Some will disagree vehemently with what I have to say, but others might agree, or at least be open to thinking in new ways. An interesting, thought-provoking conversation might ensue. From that discussion you might start to plant seeds for change.
So to add to the library of conversation starters, today I offer this video on What Nonprofits Really Need From Their Donors. And if you want to see other videos in the series go to the Social Velocity YouTube channel. Good luck!
One way to diversify and grow a nonprofit’s financial model is to attract more major donors. And I’m not just talking about major individual donors. Major donors are individuals, foundations or corporations whose gifts to a nonprofit are solicited and stewarded in a one-to-one, as opposed to a many-to-one, relationship.
But you won’t find them by chance. You find them by creating a thoughtful, systematic plan.
The Social Velocity Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide helps you create a plan to secure more major donors. Typically major donor campaigns are undertaken by larger, older nonprofit organizations. But I believe that any nonprofit can turn their board and staff into an army securing larger gifts for their organization.
Here is an excerpt from the Social Velocity Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide…
Attract Major Donors
What constitutes a major gift varies by nonprofit organization and depends on the size of the organization and the depth of their donor base. A major gift could be as little as $100 for a small, grassroots organization and as large as $1,000,000 or more for a large, established organization.
The first step in your major donor campaign is to determine how much you think you can raise from major donors in the first year of your campaign. In order to get at that goal you need to:
- Define a major gift level for your organization
- Analyze your current major gift activity
- Determine what investments in fundraising infrastructure you are going to make this year
Let’s take these one by one.
Defining a Major Gift for Your Organization
A major gift is a giving level at which you currently have a few donors, but the vast majority of your donors are below. So for example, if you currently have a handful of donors at or above $500, but most of your donors are below $500, $500 would be a major gift for your organization. Keep in mind that the major gift level for your organization can change over time as you bring in more donors and they start giving at higher levels.
Analyzing Current Major Donor Activity
Once you know what a major gift is for your nonpro!t, you will want to review how much you are currently raising at and above that level and from whom. Pull a report from your donor database that lists all gifts over the past 2-3 years at or above your major donor level. This will give you an idea of how much you currently bring in from major donors.
Determining Your Fundraising Infrastructure Investments
Your major donor goal depends in part on the resources you will devote to the major donor campaign.
- Do you have any plans to invest in your fundraising infrastructure? Do you plan to hire a Development person to focus on major gifts, or add other position(s) in order to free up current fundraising staff to focus on major gifts?
- Do you plan to upgrade your donor database to be more functional and efficient?
- Will you create marketing materials for major donor prospects? The fact that you are putting together this major donor plan will ensure some gains in major donor activity because strategy itself is a great resource investment. If you plan to invest in the backend of your major donor fundraising effort, you can expect to see some gains in major donors.
Once you have these three elements, you can determine a reasonable goal for your first year of a major donor campaign. It should be an increase from what you discovered in #2 above, and that increase is dependent upon how many changes (#3 above) you are willing to make to how you are currently securing major donors.
Once you’ve determined your major donor goal for the coming year, you will want to create a gift range chart that breaks that goal into goal into gift amounts, # of donors, and # of prospects so that you have a sense of what it will take to get to your goal…
To read more, download the Attract Major Donors Step-by-Step Guide.
And you can view all of the Social Velocity Step-by-Step Guides here.
Photo Credit: Chris Potter
There is such a hunger in the nonprofit sector for help wrangling the board of directors. Because the board is a disparate group of volunteers, it can often seem impossible to get their attention, let alone get them all pointing in the same, effective direction. This is even more true in fundraising. But if you can get your board members all on the same page, it can transform your nonprofit.
So as we approach the end of the year and the height of nonprofit fundraising I wanted to offer some ways you can get your board more involved, not just for the next couple of weeks, but for years to come.
Here are some strategies to get your board fundraising for your nonprofit:
Start a Game-Changing Board Discussion
One way to plant the seed of change is to engage the board in a thought-provoking discussion. If you’re interested in kicking one off at your next board meeting, ask your board a question like:
- Should the board be responsible for raising 10% of our budget?
- Should we institute a minimum give/get requirement?
- What should the board’s role in our financial engine be?
And if you are uncomfortable starting the discussion yourself, let me do it. Share my video Why Every Board Member Should Fundraise at the meeting and see how board members respond. Be prepared for some disagreement, perhaps even anger and frustration. But I believe it’s far better to get the demons on the table so you can examine them rather than pretending they just don’t exist.
Give the Board Options
If you have board members that are scared of fundraising, or that hate to ask people for money, there are plenty of other things they can do to help. I believe there is an endless list of ways board members can contribute to the financial engine of the organization, from writing a business plan, to negotiating with a vendor, to hosting a friend raiser, and the list goes on. If you want to help your board think outside the fundraising box, these lists (here and here) of ways board members can raise money (without fundraising) can help.
Educate the Board on Fundraising
Often a board’s inertia comes from a lack of knowledge. Very few people know how to fundraise effectively. So remove that barrier by educating your board about how money flows in the nonprofit sector, how other boards raise money, how to ask for money, etc. The How to Build a Fundraising Board webinar, the Finding Individual Donors webinar, and the 10 Traits of a Groundbreaking Board e-book can all be useful tools to help your board understand how things work and how they can be more helpful to the financial sustainability of the nonprofit they serve.
Involve the Board in Making the Case
You can’t expect the board to raise money if they can’t make a compelling argument for why people should give. And you can’t just hand board members a brochure and expect them to effectively articulate the message. If you really want to get your board excited about raising money for your cause, involve them in making a case for investment. Bring them together as a group to ask and answer a series of questions about why people should give to your nonprofit, what your organization is working towards, why it matters, and so on. The Draft a Case for Investment Step-by-Step Guide will give you the framework to use. At the end of the exercise you will have not only a compelling case to make to prospective donors, but, more importantly, an army of board members excited about making that case.
It is an unfortunate reality that almost every nonprofit leader faces. Boards of directors, as a rule, are not effective fundraisers. But you can move beyond that by getting your board to talk, think and act differently about bringing money in the door.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
I wrote last month about the crippling nonprofit fear of investment. Related to that, nonprofits need to understand and embrace the concept of Return on Investment. Nonprofit leaders often exist in such a world of scarcity that they don’t recognize that an investment today can have a huge payoff down the road. And not recognizing the value of a return on investment, particularly when it comes to a nonprofit’s fundraising function, can keep nonprofits in starvation mode.
One of the ways I consult with nonprofits is coaching a development director or executive director to increase money flowing to the organization. We work on getting board members to bring money in the door, identifying new donors, crafting a compelling message, launching new revenue streams, developing an overall financing plan.
This work could have a huge future payout:
- Board members no longer sit on their hands but actively recruit new donors to the organization.
- New donors are acquired through a thoughtful, strategic major donor campaign.
- A compelling case for investment convinces foundations and major donors to invest at higher levels and for longer periods.
- A new earned income stream brings in unrestricted revenue.
- An effective financing plan puts scarce resources to their highest and best use.
If you think of this in terms of return on investment it’s a no-brainer. You have two options:
- Continue to struggle day-to-day for the foreseeable future, or
- Make an investment today in order to dramatically increase funding and sustainability tomorrow
Let’s do the math. If a nonprofit with a budget of $1 million were to spend, say $5,000 on hands-on coaching to develop a financing plan, create a compelling case for investment, get their board engaged in fundraising, and launch a major donor campaign those elements could translate into well over $100,000 of new money annually for the nonprofit.
- A financing plan clarifies and marshals resources so staff and board know exactly where the money flows and who will do what to make it happen. The very act of creating and monitoring a financing plan could increase funding by 5%, or $50,000.
- A case for investment, when done well, becomes the backbone of any and all money-raising efforts. It can be integrated into your website, your social media efforts, your donor letters, your presentations. Telling a concise, compelling story makes donors sit up and take notice and adds perhaps another 2% increase, or $20,000.
- If your entire board starts (in their own unique ways) bringing money in the door that could increase your bottomline as well. If each member of a 15-person board starts to increase their own giving and/or the giving of those in their network by $1,000 each, that’s another $15,000.
- A major donor campaign charts a logical, strategic way for you to identify and acquire new donors. Getting strategic about how you find and recruit those donors will ensure much greater success, perhaps a 5% increase, or $50,000.
So with very conservative estimates the original $5,000 investment in coaching translates to $135,000 in new money every year thereafter.
My favorite example of this is when I helped KLRU, Austin’s PBS station use $350,000 in capacity capital to do many of the above things. After 3 years of implementing a new financing plan, using a new case for investment, and more, they were raising $1.6 million in NEW REVENUE each year. That’s a huge return on investment.
If you make a smart investment in improving the money engine of your nonprofit, that investment will pay off many times over, creating a more secure financial future for your organization.
Photo Credit: MeckiMac
There’s a key practice in business marketing, creating buyer personas, that I think nonprofit fundraisers would be wise to adopt. It is a great fallacy of nonprofit fundraisers to think that anyone with money is a potential donor to their organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to really succeed in bringing new donors in the door, you need to get smart and strategic about reaching the right target markets for your specific nonprofit, which is the topic of today’s post in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
Smart marketing is about reaching a specific target of people whose values intersect with your nonprofit’s unique ability to address a community need, like this:
This means that you don’t want to send your message out to everyone and anyone. Rather you want always to target a specific communication to those unique people for whom it would resonate.
In the business world, this is called creating “Buyer Personas.” And I think nonprofit fundraisers should develop “Donor Personas.”
Creating Donor Personas means organizing your donor base into groups of people based on demographics, interests, lifestyle choices, etc. Then you want to find out as much as you can about those groups in order to clone them.
So, for example, an animal shelter might have the following beginning list of Donor Personas:
- Animal Activist
These donors are 16-30 years old, highly motivated, interested in advocacy and changing laws and systems to make the world a safer place for animals.
- Pet Lover
These donors are 25-65 years old and have adopted a pet from the shelter in the past few years. They aren’t politically active, but rather are very grateful for the newest member of their family.
- Dog Devotee
These donors may have may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are fierce dog lovers. They don’t understand cats and are not interested in them.
- Cat Fanatic
Again these donors may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are obsessed with cats and their welfare.
So how do you go about developing your Donor Personas? Start with these four steps:
- Group Current Donors
Take a look at your current donor base. Can you place people into profile groups like I did with the animal shelter above? What do some of your donors have in common? Do patterns and groupings start to emerge around a combination of demographics, lifestyle choices and/or worldviews?
- Ask Questions
Select a handful of current donors in each donor persona group and give them a call or send them an email. Tell them that you simply want to understand their motivations for giving so that you can find more like-minded people. Ask them a handful of questions like “Why do you give to us?” “Where did you hear about us?” “What do you do in your free time?” “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Anything that will help you understand better what motivates them to give, how they make decisions, where they hang out, etc.
- Create Profiles
Armed with a deeper understanding of what makes these different groups tick, flesh out your donor personas. Give each group a descriptive name, like “Pet Lovers” above, list their various characteristics (demographics, interests, anything you know about them). Then circulate these donor persona descriptions to your staff and board. You might even want to attach a fictional picture to each persona to make it more visually captivating.
- Market to the Personas
Now that you understand your donor groups better, create different content and opportunities that resonate with these different groups. For example, you might want to engage your “Animal Activists” via social media when the city council is threatening to pull some of your shelter funding, but you might ask “Pet Lovers” to virtually adopt shelter animals with a monthly contribution. Now that you know your Donor Personas better make sure you target all of your marketing and fundraising activities accordingly.
Stop telling your story to anyone and everyone. Start figuring out what motivates those who already love you and use that information to build an army of additional supporters.
If you want to learn more about finding individual donors, download the Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide. And if you want to move your nonprofit from fundraising to financing, check out the e-books, guides and webinars that can get you started on the Financing Not Fundraising page.
Photo Credit: Camera John
A new report from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and 21/64 gives us the first real glimpse into the minds of the next generation of philanthropists, and it’s fascinating. These are not your father’s philanthropists. Millennial and GenX donors (wealthy individuals, or individuals who will inherit wealth, born between 1964-2000) will control more philanthropic dollars than any previous generation. And more importantly, they think about giving in very different ways than their parents or grandparents did. Which means nonprofits need to pay attention.
This next generation of philanthropists is so critical because it’s estimated that $41 trillion will transfer from the Baby Boom to these next generations in the next 40 years. And since much of this wealth could become philanthropic, some have predicted “a new golden age of philanthropy.”
But it’s not just the unprecedented wealth that makes this new generation of philanthropists so important, it’s the fact that they want to fundamentally change philanthropy. According to the report: “They want to make philanthropy more impactful, more hands on, more networked.”
The key findings from the report are that these NextGen donors are:
- Focused on Impact. “They see previous generations as more motivated by a desire for recognition or social requirements, while they see themselves as focused on impact, first and foremost.”
- Giving Based on Values. “They fund many of the same causes that their families support and even give locally, so long as that philanthropy fits with their personal values.”
- Looking to Be Engaged. “Giving without significant, hands-on engagement feels to them like a hollow investment with little assurance of impact.”
- Paving Their Own Way. “While they respect their families’ legacies and continue to give to similar causes and in similar ways as their families, they are also eager to revolutionize philanthropy.”
This report is further proof of the major trends changing the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Given where the sector is heading, there are three things nonprofit leaders should understand and embrace:
- Outcomes are here to stay. In order to compete for funding you must be able to prove the results of what you are doing, what change you are creating. NextGen donors are doing their homework and want to understand what impact their dollars will have. To stay relevant, you need to start by creating a theory of change and then figure out how you can being managing to outcomes.
- Giving has gone social. NextGen donors rely heavily on their social networks to make decisions, including their giving. And they offer their knowledge of worthy causes to their friends as well. So if you aren’t part of the social network you will be left behind. Start to open your organization to become a networked nonprofit and watch your support and influence grow.
- Donors are more than a checkbook. This next generation of donors doesn’t want to just write a check, have their name on a wall and be done with it. They want to really get to know the causes in which they invest. And the word “invest” is an apt one. These donors want to give money, time, mind-share, networks to things they believe in. And if you can employ that passion and investment effectively you will get so much more than just dollars. So figure out how to engage donors in much deeper, more meaningful ways.
This is a really exciting time for philanthropy and ultimately for the nonprofit sector it funds. But it’s up to nonprofit leaders to understand these fundamental shifts and adapt accordingly.
Photo Credit: www.nextgendonors.org