Friday, February 12, 2010

Nonprofit Survival Tips

For many people it seems now more than ever that the world in which we live is different. When this change occurred is hard to pinpoint exactly. Some might say September 11th was the time that brought the world’s problems closer to home. Others might direct you to a different date.

Regardless, most people feel at the very least uneasy! It is hard to think that “this” is the new normal, but the reality is crystal clear that things will never be like they use to be in the past.

With so much uncertainty our own survival instincts slowly start to kick in and we individually think it is best if we just pull in. At this point it is paramount that you start the process of taking a mental inventory of yourself and learn what it means to: Know Thy Self.

Likewise nonprofit organizations need to take this same step as well. Go back now and look at your mission statement and make sure you are focused on what it is you said your purpose was for existing. Is the organization doing what it said it would do or has it gotten side tracked because it was able to get grant monies that sent the organization in a totally different direction?

Unlike individuals that might feel a real need to pull in and in some ways hide, nonprofits need to be the absolute opposite. This is your time to shine! The old cliché is true that “out of sight is out is out of mind” so it is up to your organization to be diligent in making sure you get all the public attention you can making sure everyone knows the programs you offer and the difference you are making daily in the lives of others i.e. Toot Your Own Horn!

Keep Your Friends Close: If you really stopped and asked a person to write down a list of all the friends they have the list might be several pages long, much like your donor list. However, if you pressed the issue a little more and ask the person to tell you who they think they could count on if they really needed help? Most people’s list would shrink to only a hand full. With that in mind, I would contend that nonprofits with small budgets probably have never heard of the term “donor cultivation” much less practice the steps needed to accomplish this task. In short, many nonprofits appear to be fair weather friends and lack the energy or will to sustain a long term relationship. This needs to be corrected if you want to have any friends at all you can really count on when you need them most!

Have you been shopping lately? Have you noticed smaller sizes but the same price? Also, have you felt like you are seeing more messages like: Save Now, Half Off or Valuable Coupon!

Granted we all want a deal and in fact we are being conditioned that the regular price is not acceptable. This prevailing attitude has and will make every consumer look closer at what we spend. As consumers we are also looking closer at the “quality” of what we spend our money on and the “quality” of what we are getting to make sure it is a good value.

A regular nonprofit is no longer acceptable! You heard me right, the survival of your nonprofit depends on how your new and improved version not only looks but how it functions. It is nothing new to nonprofits to be diligent with the money they have. Trust me nonprofits know all too well about how to live on ramen noodles! To not only survive but thrive in this environment your nonprofits must establish their: Point Of Difference.

What makes your nonprofit unique and what makes your nonprofit valuable? The standard bearer can no longer be anecdotal evidence of how good your nonprofit might be but you have to be able to back up what you are saying up with raw data and fact.

In uncertain times another point that is critical for survival is Keeping The Faith! You have to know that you can weather this storm no matter how long it might last. This is critical because nothing will kill a nonprofit faster than the prevailing attitude of its employees. If the people working for the organization think they are on a sinking ship then all the buckets will have holes.

To help you keep the faith you need to put your situation in context and for that you need to: Count Your Blessings.

Nonprofits are fluid organizations and many times the turnover in both staff and board members are so great that the long term institutional memory vanishes. A great deal of good would come if nonprofits have a social gathering and invite all the past board members and especially all the past presidents as well as others in your community that have played and currently play a vital role in not only establishing your nonprofit but making it grow. This introspective look should be a time to celebrate and really see how far you have come as well as reconnect those lost ties that bind!

Lastly, in order to survive you need to: Say Thank You! I can guarantee that if more nonprofits would commit to this one tip in a year’s time they would see a tremendous positive change in their organization.

I realize it is hard to create a habit, but I would like to challenge all nonprofit professionals to daily call a donor and tell them how much you appreciate them or write a note to a donor and mail it everyday! If you have to, place a calendar over your computer screen, on top of your phone or just somewhere you will have to look at it to remember. Mark off each day with an X when you accomplish this small but important task.

Likewise, ask your board to make a commitment and either call or write at least one donor every month i.e. assign names to specific individuals. Make it a point at your monthly meeting to reiterate how important this is to your organization and make sure to follow up with how everyone is doing.

Remember, Your Survival Depends on It!

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