6 signs of a well-run nonprofit organization

Excerpted from my new book, The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving.

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A well-run nonprofit is aligned around fundraising goals

If your organization depends on money from fundraising, everyone should have their success, including their compensation, tied to fundraising success. Even if their role in that success may be indirect, it’s still critical.

If fundraising is going poorly, it’s everyone’s “fault.” It should be more difficult for anyone to get increased rewards or promotions than when fundraising is going well. It needs to be clear that everyone rises or sinks together with their common enterprise of raising funds. Don’t ignore the problem or write it off to factors you can’t control. People in other professional sectors don’t get to do that.

Along with that should be a de-siloing of functions: The managers and leaders of all the groups need to be working together, not in isolation. They all have to be able to see the problems of others as their own problems, too.

This won’t be easy if your organization has been operating in separate silos. It’s important, though. Getting it right can unleash energy, focus, and innovation in your organization.

A well-run nonprofit is not run by committees

Committees are meant to bring together expertise. They don’t. Instead, they pool incompetence. That’s the inevitable outcome of a group in which everyone is functionally equal and encouraged to speak. Each member’s opinion gets full hearing, whether they know what they’re talking about or not.

Everyone knows committees are a terrible way to produce good work. Yet committees live on, doing uncalculated damage every day.

Here’s my challenge to you: Make your organization one of the few, one of the proud, that dispatches with committees and reaps the rewards of better fundraising.

Most people are thrilled to be freed from a committee. They have jobs to do, and sitting around opining about things they don’t understand is not their idea of a great time. (The people who want to be on a committee are the ones you’d probably be better off without.)

Here’s how to get the work done instead: Replace each committee with two or three people who have specific and relevant expertise. Limit their authority to their areas of competence. Make sure these people are held responsible for fundraising results. That will keep them focused and realistic.

A well-run nonprofit doesn’t have a marketing department

Nonprofit marketing people have told me, without a hint of irony, “Our fundraising is effective at raising revenue, but it’s damaging the brand.” In that mind-set, the organization is forced to choose between expressing the brand and raising money! That’s like the old medical punch line: “The operation was a success, but the patient died.”

“Brand” should exist to improve fundraising. If it doesn’t, it’s a failure.

Beyond that, the very existence of a marketing department lets everyone else in the organization off the hook. They can accurately say about marketing, “That’s not my department.”

Marketing is too important to leave up to marketers. If marketing isn’t built into your entire organization, you will always struggle to tell your story and be interesting to potential donors.

It’s everyone’s job to tell the story of your cause in a way that will help others choose to get involved. It’s everyone’s job to create programs that outsiders can support. It’s everyone’s job to take part in the conversation about your cause. It’s everyone’s job to know, understand, and respect donors.

When the marketing department takes responsibility for marketing and nobody else does, it will fail. A stand-alone marketing department simply can’t stand alone.

A well-run nonprofit has a plan for every donor

That’s right: a plan for every donor at every giving level and every stage of their life cycle. The plan needs to have an appropriate treatment for every donor group:


  • When and how they’ll be contacted.
  • How much you can spend on them.
  • What the messages and offers will be.
  • What to do with donors who upgrade or downgrade.
  • How to handle lapsed donors.
  • How to handle new donors.

Your donor plan should be in writing, so when someone with institutional memory leaves, the knowledge stays intact, and no group is lost in the transition. And it must be followed religiously. It can’t be changed on a whim—only by new information that shows you a better way to treat a specific group.

A well-run nonprofit has its donor data act together

If your data are inaccurate, or you’re not able to query it, or definitions are not consistent or documented, all kinds of bad things happen:


  • You won’t be in control of which donors you’re communicating with.
  • You may not even know for sure who’s getting what.
  • You can’t tell what’s working.
  • You can’t mail smarter (or not mail those you shouldn’t mail).
  • You can really annoy donors.

Information matters. In a sense, it’s all you have to offer. Don’t let data problems fester. Make sure you have an appropriate database system that fits your needs and the size of your donor file. Then protect it like it’s your very life.

A well-run nonprofit is donor connected

Everyone should have meaningful contact with donors. At the least, everyone should spend time manning the phones to take calls from donors, making thank-you calls to donors (these calls can significantly boost subsequent giving), or writing thank-you notes to donors.

Contact with donors helps your staff understand that donors are real people. They meet them, know them, and get an understanding of who they really are, how they think, what they care about, and what they understand.

Most of all, donor contact makes it easier to love them. And that’s how fundraising is done—with love.

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand is available at:


Comments

4 responses to “6 signs of a well-run nonprofit organization”

  1. Nice article, but i have to disagree on the marketing front. Whether or not the function is called marketing or something else, it is very much needed. What’s also needed, though, is the support and buy-Iin of the rest of the non profit’s leadership so that marketing can do its job. Everyone must be on the same page so to speak. Just my two cents. Thanks.

  2. Nice article, but i have to disagree on the marketing front. Whether or not the function is called marketing or something else, it is very much needed. What’s also needed, though, is the support and buy-Iin of the rest of the non profit’s leadership so that marketing can do its job. Everyone must be on the same page so to speak. Just my two cents. Thanks.

  3. Replace your committees with project teams! Give them a specific objective, specific budget & timeframe to accomplish it. As mentioned in my book, “Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits,” empowering your volunteers to organize in project teams as opposed to committees encourages focus on “getting the work done” and using volunteer skills to their ultimate. Many a good idea has died because it was “talked to death by committee.”

  4. Replace your committees with project teams! Give them a specific objective, specific budget & timeframe to accomplish it. As mentioned in my book, “Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits,” empowering your volunteers to organize in project teams as opposed to committees encourages focus on “getting the work done” and using volunteer skills to their ultimate. Many a good idea has died because it was “talked to death by committee.”

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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