10 Things Top Nonprofits Have in Common

10 Things Top Nonprofits Have in Common

Guest post written by Chelsea Alves from Classy

With an abundance of nonprofit organizations in existence, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. With such a large pool of like-minded organizations vying for similar supporters, it is essential to differentiate in order to attract donors.

There isn’t one formula for differentiating your organization and acquiring supporters, but there are certain ingredients that play a large role. Here, we unveil the top 10 things we believe top notch nonprofit organizations, big and small, have in common that let them stand out in a competitive market.

1. A Fine-Tuned Mission Statement

Your mission statement is your key communication tool for marketing your organization’s purpose and cause. A well-written mission statement can contribute to your organization’s success by serving as the guiding light for your team. It also helps to educate your audience and attract people to your cause. Though short in length, this simple statement holds much weight. It is an opportunity to leave a memorable impression and draw in the support of donors, volunteers, and advocates. A good mission statement can inspire people to share your cause, become a volunteer, or even make a donation.

Successful organizations follow several practices to ensure their mission statements are compelling and easy to understand.

  • They use verbs that prompt action. Your goal is to ultimately inspire donations, and the right words can do just this. Some verbs Brand Vox recommends using include accelerate, activate, develop, empower, and improve.
  • Their mission statement communicates the “why.” This can be achieved by condensing your mission statement into just eight words, as recommended by SSIR. Eight words are enough to appropriately convey your message yet short enough not to lose people’s interest.

2.  Dedicated and Passionate Employees

The right team of dedicated employees is essential for success. To find these individuals takes time, patience, and a thorough screening process. You need to hire team members who are not only passionate about your cause, but also have a competitive skillset. When searching for the right candidate, don’t be afraid to hire from the for-profit world if the prospect has the skills you’re looking for and fits into your culture. Another trait a good candidate will possess is the ability to be flexible and adjust to sudden changes as priorities shift.

Once you have a solid team in place, it is important to keep employees happy and motivated. This requires investing resources into retaining your staff. These investments may include providing ongoing training, a competitive salary, a comfortable work environment, and proper support when challenges arise. Satisfied employees lead to lifelong employees, which is especially important in an industry with high turnover rates.

3.  A Proactive Donor Retention Strategy

A surefire way to nonprofit success is a loyal donor and supporter base. In order to grow and foster this group of evangelists it is essential to nurture your relationships. Enter your donor retention strategy. This strategy includes the actions necessary to develop all of your relationships, even with those who just make a single donation. With the right attention and support, a one-time donor can become a recurring donor.

Team Rubicon exemplifies the ability to create a large network of supporters and raise an exponential amount of money from them. They found success in nurturing their donor relationships by simply saying, “thank you.” For example, to thank their supporters who donated to their Nepal earthquake relief efforts in 2015, they spent hours of their time making personal phone calls to every single person who donated to their campaign. While this example is ambitious, sending a hand written thank you card to smaller donors and personally calling larger donors can make all the difference when soliciting donations for your next campaign.

4.  An Innovative Approach

Innovation isn’t just good practice for your organization’s programs and events, it can also help you reach an untapped network of supporters. Successful organizations keep up-to-date with the latest technologies in order to reach more donors through new outlets. More and more, nonprofit organizations are digitizing their fundraising efforts with online donation forms, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, crowdfunding, and event registration. These efforts, when coupled with beautiful website design, attract visitors, keep them engaged, and prompt them to learn more about your cause. If your website is also mobile friendly, great news. Mobile responsive donation pages produce 34 percent more donations.

Trees.org is an example of a nonprofit organization who benefits from an innovative development strategy. Recently, they rebranded their organization and invested in the resources necessary to create a new, knock-out, donation-based website. Over $110,000 in donations were received since the microsite launched with the average donation rate soaring to over $300.

5. Measurable Goals

Goals are crucial to long-term success. Research indicates a direct correlation between goals and enhanced performance in business. With specific, measurable, and actionable goals in place, you set the framework for your organization’s efforts and provide motivation for your employees.

When setting goals, it is important to make sure they are both quantifiable and achievable. For example, instead of having your marketing team commit to writing more blog posts in the month of June, set a specific goal, say 16 blogs posts. With a specific number to hit, employees will feel more motivated. While it’s nice to shoot for the moon, you should be reasonable with your expectations. No matter how great the goal, if it’s too far-fetched, employees may burn out and feel disappointed if goals are continuously not achieved.

6. A Good Reputation

In an age of increased connectivity, it is now more important than ever for nonprofit organizations to be perceived as reputable when they’re constantly in the spotlight. This can be achieved by being open and transparent with donors about what steps your organization takes to meet your goals. Nonprofit organizations are often questioned about their expenses, yet many are hesitant to disclose too much over fear of scrutiny. Your organization can avoid this pitfall by clearly communicating where your money is going on your website and
donation pages. Your annual report is also a great place to share your financials and results with current and potential supporters.

Bread of Life shares a breakdown of their program, administrative, and fundraising costs as well as their audited financial statements on their website. This type of transparency builds trust with their supporters and gives them a glimpse into how Bread of Life efficiently uses their money to not only support their cause but also to pay their hard-working staff. With easy to read graphs and figures there is no room for doubt or uncertainty.

7. Strong Partnerships

You can have the greatest programs in the world but without the right exposure, your communication efforts may fall flat. This is where building a solid, mutually beneficial partnership can come into play. By forming a strategic partnership with a like-minded organization, you can get your message in front of a new audience, gain credibility, and acquire a new set of supporters.

The value of a good partnership extends beyond just getting word out about your organization. It can also result in an increase in donations. In a recent survey, 79 percent of consumers said they would donate to a charity if it was supported by a reputable company. These relationships increased shoppers’ trust and faith in the charity.

8. Smart Financial Planning

Keeping track of your bottom line is essential. In order to pave the path for success, nonprofit organizations should partake in financial planning to ensure they stay afloat to help their constituents for years to come. This can be accomplished by preparing quarterly financial statements. Quarterly financial statements give your organization a snapshot of your profit and losses over a three-month timeframe and can help you determine areas for improvement to focus on the next quarter.  Additionally, monthly cash flow statements should be prepared. Cash flow statements show revenue coming into your organization and the outflow of expenses during a given month. This is helpful to look at to ensure careful cash monitoring.

As with any organization, financial security isn’t always guaranteed. A fundraising effort could fall flat, a major donor could stop giving, or an event might go awry. Having a reserve fund can help your organization prepare for worst case scenarios should you need extra funds to stay in operation. An ideal reserve fund is equal to three to six months of operating expenses.

9. The Ability to React Quickly to Change

It is no secret that priorities shift often at nonprofit organizations. However, the secret to success when these unforeseen changes happen is to be prepared.

Imagine your organization planned a 5K run. You check the weather forecast the week before the event and notice a strong chance of inclement weather on the race day. You could stress and send your team into a panic. But your organization is ready for unexpected challenges. You don’t panic. You send an email to your supporters right away to inform them of the unexpected weather change and provide them with resources for how to dress for the weather. You meet with your team to discuss any last minute changes that need to happen as a result of the change. These types of circumstances are unavoidable, but with the right mindset and approach, they do not hinder a successful outcome.

10. A Diversified Fundraising Strategy

When you rely solely on one fundraising source, it can cause a major upset. Say you depend heavily on your annual Turkey Trot 5K, but this year a major concert has decided to come to town that night and you are unable to secure the necessary permits or encourage enough participants to attend. You are forced to cancel your event.  Your planning efforts have now been for naught and you lose a substantial amount of revenue.

To avoid this type of situation, it is essential to have multiple fundraising sources. This allows you to operate with a sense of security and know that if one of your efforts fails you still have other revenue streams you can rely on. Some of these other sources may include other events, email appeals, online donations, corporate sponsorships, government funding, and recurring giving campaigns.

Success isn’t built overnight. It is a learning process—filled with challenges, setbacks, and mistakes. Yet with the right ingredients, you can take steps to avoid these pitfalls, acquire new supporters, and set your organization up for future success and growth. Does your nonprofit organization have other key ingredients for success? Let us know in the comments below.