Nonprofits: Be Different in the New Year

Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 6:25PM

success tips nonprofit

You see them regularly, reports published on familiar issues impacting the nonprofit sector. Why? Because nonprofits struggle with the same ongoing problems.

Three particular areas — organizational focus, board performance, and donor retention — are sources of a significant number of unrelenting challenges.

Using different approaches from those you (and the other nonprofits) have always employed can help you break free from some of these issues. If a current approach isn’t working does it make sense to stay on that path?

Here are three behavior changes that will help avoid common non-productive practices that contribute to organizational angst.

  • Get over reluctance to planning. Many nonprofits won’t allow themselves the benefit of planning. They cite lack of time, lack of participation, and inattention to the existing plan as reasons this critical activity is rejected. If previous planning exercises haven’t produced desired results, examine how past efforts can be improved. A well-executed planning process will provide focus for overcoming challenges that continue to plague your organization. It also functions as an engagement tool for building implementation support. (Email me at Hardy@hardysmith.com for my publication Achieving Productive Planning for Nonprofits for dozens of doable suggestions.) Reinforce planning by creating a culture of creativity. In challenging times new and innovative ideas are essential. Encourage and recognize out-of-the-box thinking within your organization. Support creative time and brainstorming sessions away from the daily work routine.
  • Rethink your approach to board recruitment and engagement. Establish critical standards for board members and make it a priority to fill board positions with individuals who meet those standards. Slot fillers who are not committed to performing to expectations will only create frustration. For example, if fundraising is a desired function, select board candidates with fundraising experience and a confirmed commitment to that objective. Board members become discouraged when dissatisfied with their board service. They often share with me that poor communication is a major reason for their not performing as expected. Improve engagement by evaluating communication with your board to be sure you are communicating effectively. In addition, establish practices that ensure your board environment is positive and rewarding.
  • Commit to building relationships with donors. Replacing lost donors is a constant challenge. Increase donor retention rates by examining how your donor experience can be improved. How often are you thanking those who support your cause? Are you showing gratitude more frequently than you are appealing for more support? Are your communications personalized and sincere? How can you improve the quality of your thank-you messages so donors, and sponsors better feel the value of their contributions to your success?

Deciding to be different in the New Year can position your nonprofit to overcome challenges that other organizations will continue to experience by not moving on from their old familiar practices.


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