Sometimes you have to invest in yourself before you can invest in others.
Mothers know how hard it is to care for a crying baby when they haven’t gotten much rest the night before or had any breakfast yet. And self-sacrificing as mothers are, they know that there comes a time when they’re going to need to nurture themselves before they can go on.
There are a lot of nonprofits that fit the analogy pretty well. There’s a level of caring that compels us to sacrifice for a cause. But unless we remember to invest in ourselves, we will burn out and have no resources left to give.
So give and give and give again! But don’t let your own resources become depleted in the process. It’s not fair to you, and it will ultimately hurt the cause you care so much about. And by resources, I mean (a) sufficient funds and (b) the tools needed in order to surround the needs of your cause.
I’m going to divide this into two separate posts to keep things simple. So let’s start with your primary need first.
A basic rule I learned as a small child: “You can’t spend what you don’t have.” Of course, in our day the opposite has become the norm. But we all know it’s a shaky model for any foundation.
So fundraising is key. Here’s a few tips for meeting and exceeding your goals.
1. Collect data and then be honest about it.
According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle,” many nonprofits are not accurately stating their overhead expenses to their funders, and they are annihilating themselves in the process. Buck that status quo. Don’t pretend that you can get along in today’s world without a competitive online presence. Count the printing expenses for every newsletter you send out, the postage for all the thank-you notes, and a reasonable salary for your staff. Don’t forget the electric bill and the fact that you are soon going to need a new printer/copier/fax machine (a good one). I think you get the idea. Don’t try to cut corners to appear thrifty. Instead, show your funders accurate data about your real-world needs. Anyone with good business sense will understand that covering overhead is important to your cause.
2. Don’t penny-pinch on those in leadership roles.
According to a survey by CompassPoint, top leaders in many nonprofits are overworked, underpaid, and unheard. As a result, they are leaving vacancies that, in many cases, nobody else is qualified to fill. This is a three-pronged problem.
First, though leaders are expected to be sold out to the cause, it goes without saying that you’re more likely to keep a truly great leader around if you make their passion sustainable. Why would you want to burn out such a great resource and then have to spend time hunting for and training someone else—only to repeat the process?
Second, provide ongoing leadership training. Invest in a good leader just as you should any truly valuable asset. Provide training. Pay the way for them to go to seminars and motivational meetups. Keep them fueled up!
And third, listen to your leaders. This point, by and large, needs to be directed at the board, I think. Too often, the board members in an organization are unaware of the overwhelming challenges nonprofit directors have to face day in and day out. Board members, don’t assume you know better than someone doing hands-on work. Yes, be objective. But assume the leaders you have chosen to head up this cause know what they’re talking about.
3. Develop winning ways to get your board on board.
Yes, board members have hearts and can be brought on board, especially if you’re prepared to paint a clear picture for them. Get together regularly. And always be prepared for those meetings. You must be proactive in presenting your day-to-day challenges in a clear, colorful, engaging way. That means real-life stories. It means plenty of visuals. And specific, hard data. Sell them on what you are already sold on.
And then get them on board to sell to others. Your board is in the best position to do this. According to another survey by CompassPoint in 2011, fewer than half of the 3,000 nonprofit executives surveyed had board members participating in fundraising. That’s a problem. Fundraising is foundational to every nonprofit, and everyone needs to be involved.
Here’s an interesting fact for your board. Individual donations make up between 72 percent to 83 percent of all giving to nonprofits. When one board was convinced of that, they allocated resources to seek out more donors.They didn’t give up their grantors, but they realized they were cutting themselves short by depending solely on them. Within six months of their change of direction, this nonprofit added over 300 new prospect names to its database, has held three packed open house events, and since launching the “ask” phase of the program, has brought in almost 50 new individual donors to the organization, a significant percentage increase over past efforts.
4. Don’t stop when you hit budget.
Nonprofits need reserves just as much as any other type of organization. What business plans to make just enough to pay the bills, the paychecks, and necessary inventory? Or what family sits down to just enough dinner to meet the exact calorie count required for each individual?
Life doesn’t work that way. Neither should you. Plan for at least a year’s reserve. Or better yet, just keep on the fundraising bandwagon at a steady pace, whether you’ve met your goals or not. Just like a business keeps on selling its product, even after it’s met the year’s goals, so it can expand; so you should keep an eye on both saving and expanding with whatever comes in above your goal.
Unfortunately, this is not typical for nonprofits. CompassPoint cites a New England survey in which less than half of the organizations had three months’ reserve and one in five had only a month or less in reserve.
When you consider that Americans rely on nonprofits today perhaps more that at any time in the past, this is troubling. Bank of America and the Ford Foundation sponsored a survey in 2014 that highlighted the increase in demand for nonprofit services, with 56 percent of nonprofits unable to meet demand.
5. All of this requires specific plans.
Long-term plans are an essential starting point. Entrepreneur suggests a three-year plan, with the current year being the most detailed. Of course, that means the plans need to be reviewed, expanded, and implemented every year to keep that advance perspective in place.
Short-term planning keeps you on track. So take the time to brainstorm each specific goal and figure out the how, when, and who of how it will be implemented.
Specifically address things like:
- Your social media campaign
- Your next sponsored event
- Success stories as news
- Updates on achievements
- Giving Tuesday campaign
Flesh out these kinds of ideas and get everyone on board, ready to pull their part of the load. You can be successful at fundraising. You can be a well-nourished benefactor of many. You will be a reliable source for the many Americans who “rely on nonprofits for food, shelter, education, healthcare, and other necessities.”