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How Nonprofits Can Thrive While Awaiting Economic Recovery

After 3+ years of a difficult recession it looks like the economy might be starting to turn around. That’s great news. But for the nonprofit sector, which is always the first hit by and last to rebound from a recession, it might still be awhile until they enjoy the looming economic recovery. But it does no good for nonprofit leaders to throw up their hands and curse the economy. Instead, nonprofits should seize this opportunity to rethink how their organization brings money in the door.

There are some key things nonprofit leaders can do to create a sustainable financial model in the midst of lingering economic uncertainty:

  • Take a Step Back. Stop putting your organization in the “fundraising” box and take a big step back. Figure out an overall financial model for your organization that connects with your mission and your organization’s core competencies. Don’t just go through the regular fundraising motions (direct mail, events, grants). Rather, analyze how to create a long-term financial model for your organization.

  • Harness Your Board. Your board of directors ideally is a group of people who bring connections and expertise that could help your organization. Tap into that. Educate them on what your organization needs and brainstorm how they can help. Now is not the time to be shy. Be strategic about what your board can do and get them to do it.

  • Create a Plan. If your organization doesn’t have a strategic plan and a revenue plan, create them. You raise money by being strategic, first about what your organization is and does, and second about how you are going to create sustainable revenue streams. People give to causes that they care about, and they give even more money to organizations that are strategic about what they do and how. A good strategic plan is an invaluable tool around which you can build investment. And a good revenue plan gives you a step-by-step way to generate money.

  • Reallocate Resources. As a nonprofit organization you have limited resources (money, staff, technology, time) with which to raise money. You want to make sure that the effort you put in has the highest return on investment. Calculate the direct and indirect costs of every revenue-generating activity and determine the real net income you generated. Are there better, more effective ways to raise more money for less cost and effort?

  • Use Technology. Move your communications with donors and prospects online. You’ll save money and have a better chance of getting more and bigger gifts. Send email newsletters, campaigns, event invites. Survey your donors. Create an online community through social media where people can get to know your organization and become involved. People will become more interested in your work and more invested in the organization.

  • Learn from the Best. Now is the time to learn from others, get a fresh perspective, find a mentor or coach for your Development Director. Use social media to find interesting and innovative people and ideas. Talk with your fellow social change leaders locally, nationally and internationally. Attend online conferences and webinars. By getting out and hearing what others have done and how they have innovated you will find new ways to grow revenue.

  • Strengthen Your Case. Money is raised around a case for support. It can be tempting when times are tough to fall back on a message of need. “We need to raise $50,000.” But the better way is to clearly connect donors with the change you are creating in the community. If you don’t have a case for support write one. If you have one, revisit it and make sure that it is compelling, clear, concise, inspiring. Invest donors in the change you are creating.

  • Clone Your Best Donors. When you are struggling to find new donors, go back to the source. Dig into your database to determine the characteristics (demographics and psychographics) of your best (most years of giving, biggest dollar, greatest upgrade) donors. Then survey them (formally or informally) to find out why they give, what messages resonate with them, what they read, where they get their information. You want to understand how they tick so that you can find others like them.

  • Diversify Your Funds. When one revenue stream (or several) are down, you want to be able to draw on other streams. Are there other revenue streams you could launch or strengthen? Have you explored earned income? Could you grow your individual donor base? There are many ways to raise money and always potential for new avenues. Explore whether some of these make sense for your organization.

Things may be looking up, but it’s going to be awhile for the nonprofit sector. Instead of waiting around for a better economy, make some significant changes now to how you raise money. In so doing you’ll be turning this challenge into a tremendous opportunity for your organization.

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