I’m feeling more Huxley than Shakespeare right now.
Many of us in the nonprofit world are feeling anxious. The future is scary.
It’s clearer every day: we’re going to have to up our games.
Here in the U.S. changes in our social safety net, along with possible changes in the tax code, mean many of our organizations will face challenges.
(That’s a euphemism for pointlessly hard times.)
Besides doing all you can as a citizen to protect what’s good, what can your organization do to weather this storm?
Revisit your case for support
I don’t mean you need to call the designers and get a new, fancy document out. I mean the hard stuff: why do we exist? What do we accomplish? Why should someone choose us over other organizations?
In order to see an increase in support, you have to stand out.
You have to make a compelling case for support. “We need more money” isn’t that.
And numbers will only work to some extent. Institutional funders will want to see them. Donors will too – to an extent. But every funder, small to large, will also need to be moved.
If your organization does advocacy in areas that will be hard hit – civil rights, women’s rights, health care, immigration, the environment – you need a strong case so you can wring the most advantage from rage giving.
If you’re a social service organization, you can anticipate an uptick in business. That’s not a good thing, of course. You’ll see more clients, because there will be greater need.
If yours is not a social service or advocacy organization, you’ll really need to work hard. You’ll need a stronger argument: why now? Why should I support your theater when the shelter down the street is past capacity? When sick people have no way to get help?
Don’t dodge the question. Dig deep and answer it. Turn to your own love for your cause. What moved you to work there?
Talk to your most passionate donors. Why do they give? What does your organization give them?
Pay attention to donors’ needs to keep them around
Don’t take your loyal donors for granted now. Let them know how much they’re appreciated and needed. Bring them inside: share your concerns. Ask them to help problem-solve.
Keep listening. Keep the conversation going. This isn’t the time to pull back on communications in order to save a little money. Your loyal donors the key to your organization’s continued existence.
Donors may be moved to get more personally involved. They may want to send money, but also roll up their sleeves and help. Find ways to make that possible.
Find new ways to express gratitude
It’s a great way to stand out in the crowd, because doing this well is often overlooked.
Be the most responsive, most grateful organization your donors have ever encountered. Say thank you often, and mean it.
But don’t ignore acquisition
When times get tough, it’s natural to pull in a bit. And I would prioritize your current donors over big (expensive) acquisition efforts. But you can’t stop entirely.
Be sure your online systems are working well. Is it easy to give online? Do you have a good welcome series set up when new people join your list?
Have you asked current supporters to recommend you to friends?
Your board and major donors will be critical now
Reach out and talk to them. Keep them in every loop. Listen to their concerns.
And be aware of changes that might make increased giving a smart as well as a good move for them now.
If we lose the charitable donation deduction, that will affect this group the most.
At the same time, the stock market is up. So gifting stock now could provide a double benefit: no capital gains tax and a deduction.
I’m no accountant. But you should befriend one (perhaps a board member?) so you can help your most generous donors help you.
Keep pushing back against “overhead” limits
If the proposed changes in health care law happen, many organizations will have to take a hard look at benefits. Many nonprofit workers could find themselves without health care, or with bare bones plans.
Treating staff well shouldn’t be seen as a luxury. Healthy staffers who can, you know, eat meals and pay rent, are investments in the mission.
Talk to your major funders – institutional and individual – about the situation. Help them understand that tight limits on administrative expense do not make you a more fiscally-responsible organization if they cut into the health and safety of the people who make the mission happen.
This may also be exactly the time for foundations to revisit their spending policies.
Guidestar will be holding a free webinar on the topic. How Much Does It Cost to Do Good? Conversations on Nonprofit Overhead. You might want to sign up – especially since one of the presenters is Vu Le of Nonprofit With Balls fame.
Take care of each other
Don’t waste time or breath on internal squabbles. Focus on the mission and give each other a break.
Say thank you a lot – and mean it. Recognize the hard work happening in other departments. (Even if you don’t entirely believe it – people can be moved by aspirational language.)
I know I gave you a list of things to do.
But put your life and family in the number one spot.
In the last eleven months, I lost both my parents. And it’s true: the family life they built for us is so much more lasting and important than the work either of them did.
Besides, the problems will be there for you in the morning.
Look at the good around you – because it’s there. You’re not alone. And you can do this.
Read more predictions here:
Inside Philanthropy – Philanthropy Forecast, 2017: Trends and Issues to Watch
Aly Sterling Philanthropy – Five key nonprofit trends for 2017
Photo: Tertia von Rensburg