Great nonprofit professionals are alchemists – they take what they have (with fundraising, or anything else in their organization) and create something extraordinary out of it.
In 25+ years working with nonprofits, I’ve seen that the professionals who thrive are those who get excited about the challenge of that alchemy. They love to innovate. Whether in large or small organizations, some of the most effective nonprofit professionals stay scrappy, taking what they’ve got (funds, people, facilities, information) and finding greatness there.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not think that nonprofits should constantly be forced to make due with inadequate resources. Nonprofit professionals should be treated with dignity and respect; work in environments that are inspiring; and, be paid an appropriate wage that reflects their skills.
That said, I have worked with nonprofits that create incredible returns – in fundraising and programming – with far fewer human and capital resources than some of the bigger, marquee organizations. Not only do they leverage small resources for big results, but they use their small size to their advantage. What are some of those advantages?
Advantages of Smaller Fundraising Shops
Easier decisions. It’s easier to say no to hosting the golf tournament or gala dinner that will take enormous time and effort with uncertain fundraising returns. It’s easier to say no to the donor who wants the organization to take on a new effort or cause that is not mission-aligned. When the extra resources (funding, personnel, etc.) don’t exist, you stay laser-focused on your mission. “We just don’t have the resources to take that on and continue doing our core work.”
Personal touch. When the organization is small, donors can be connected to people who deeply understand the work and the mission, and because they talk to the same professionals (or board members) over and over, they can become more connected; they will feel more a part of your organizational family.
Volunteer investment. In smaller nonprofits, volunteers can roll up their sleeves and dig in. Whether they are running a fundraising auction, a board meeting, or a sports event for needy kids/clients, they are deepening their investment in the organization. They can be authentic cheerleaders for the cause, which also can make them incredibly effective fundraisers and donors.
Compelling asks. In crafting grant proposals, solicitation emails, or major donor asks, smaller fundraising shops can demonstrate how they are using their limited resources in smart, creative, thoughtful ways. It’s not always so easy to do that from a fancy office or when reading from a slick brochure.
How can smaller fundraising shops do more with less?
- Seek out volunteer leaders who are both connectors and doers. You need both. Train your volunteer leaders to be effective community ambassadors, creating a multiplier effect of goodwill, good PR, and good fundraising leads.
- Have some resources at-the-ready: A general support grant proposal, a mission and vision statement, a story bank with client testimonials, a facts & figures list. If you have these on hand, you can update them as needed and quickly send them out when fundraising opportunities emerge.
- When you are deciding whether or not do to a fundraising event, compare potential income with expenses, and when you calculate expenses, include the value of your time. More often than not, when you include the value of your time, your event will not net as much money as you think it will.
- Set up a stewardship calendar, and commit to contacting donors, potential donors, and event participants on a regular basis. In a small shop, this can fall to the bottom of the list, but it is an incontrovertible fact that it is more cost effective to retain a current donor than attain a new one. Put these phone calls, coffees, and other meetings on the calendar, and prioritize them.
I recently launched the Small & Mighty Membership program to provide a tightly-curated set of resources, tips, and ideas to smaller fundraising shops; places that don’t have the time or resources to research the avalanche of fundraising materials (some good, some fair, some misguided) that are out there. You can learn more about the program by clicking here.
Just because your organization is small, that does not mean that it cannot be mighty. In fact, your path to greatness can be more direct than you think, if you seek innovative solutions and use your size to your advantage.