A few months ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a strategy meeting with a non-profit organization. They are doing some great work overseas and are looking to maximize their impact and continue to grow. They are looking for sustainability.
I love working with non-profits because they have such a heart to help people.
I listened to their point leader explain their ministry, share stories of impact and then talk about the challenges they were facing. They asked for advice so I shared five things.
If you’re leading a non-profit, maybe these five things would be helpful for you to hear today as well.
#1 – Focus is the key.
The moment you step forward to say, “We’re going to help two-year-olds” a bunch of people are going to say, “Wait, don’t you care about three-year-olds?”
People get into ministry because they want to help people. Many times, they are wired to help and want to say yes to everything. That’s why focus is so hard.
It’s difficult to let needs go unmet, but if you want to step into your calling, you have to be specific.
Your purpose is probably really broad and you can make just about anything fit. That’s why you need a clear mission with an organized strategy. In fact, your mission should be so clear that it empowers you to say no to most things.
This isn’t just true about non-profits. It’s likely your business has too many products, your website has too many pages, or your church has too many programs.
#2 – Hire someone to help with donor development.
Hiring someone isn’t always the silver bullet, but once you reach a certain size, it’s a great step to take.
For non-profits, the donor base is a significant source of revenue. Yet too many non-profits don’t have someone exclusively focused on this task. It’s something that gets added to the founder’s to-do list or delegated to an administrative assistant.
If you raise $1 million a year from donors, it’s not crazy to invest $100k in staff and resources to grow your donor base. That’s the principle of focus applied to fundraising. Make it someone’s job. Don’t try to put all your people on all of your problems; create some clear lanes.
If donations are a big deal, invest here. Let someone focus here. It’s just a good business decision.
And it’s not just true for non-profits. Whenever you figure out what core product or service to focus on, invest there. Don’t chase rabbits with time and money…spend your resources on what generates resources.
#3 – Think like a business.
People get into non-profit work because they want to make a difference. They don’t want to be a professional fundraiser. They probably don’t get fired up about systems and processes.
Businesses have to think sustainability and scale; they don’t have a bunch of donors footing the bill for operations. You can learn from that setup.
If the money your donors are giving isn’t going to good use, they are going to get worn out funding operations. Donor fatigue is very real. It’s a mistake to think donors will keep funding things that don’t pay off. They want their donations to be a good investment; they don’t want to lose money for a good cause.
Now a non-profit is more than a business, but it is at LEAST a business. For you to be successful and help the people you want to help, you have to operate with sound business practices.
#4 – Keep telling your story.
The non-profit I was meeting with had an incredible story. They are doing amazing work and are poised for growth.
During the conversation, they said when they go help in an area, they make a 10-year commitment to serve. They don’t go in quick and leave just as fast.
They also said 87% of their on-the-ground volunteers return to serve later.
Both of those numbers are amazing and help tell part of the story. As I was listening to it, I thought, “You can raise money off your track record and not just your passion.”
That’s a fun place to be.
So many non-profits talk about what they are going to do and their dramatic plans for the future. That’s exciting. But it’s more exciting to some to talk about past success.
So whether you have one story, ten stories or a thousand success stories, tell them.
And once more, this isn’t just something for non-profits. Every organization should have a story, something that describes why they do what they do or why they make what they make.
Work those stories into everything you do.