Nonprofits serve individuals and communities, and they can make a generous and measurable impact on society. Of course, the challenges facing nonprofits are often serious. Budget cuts, limited resources and political instability can threaten your organization.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to ensure that your organization thrives and adapts no matter what the world throws at you. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest challenges I see nonprofits face as the marketing director for an online fundraising platform and the founder/CEO of an agency that offers marketing products for nonprofits — and what it takes to come out swinging.
No. 1: Establishing A Clear Message
A clear, consistent message is where it all starts. Your message is why you get up in the morning. It’s why you do what you do. If your message is unclear or inconsistent across all your channels, donors won’t have a clear idea of what you stand for and why they should care.
Here’s how to make your story count:
• Brainstorm: Make a list of everyone your message has to target: your organization’s staff, volunteers, community members, reporters, researchers, institutions and donors. All of them should be on board with your story.
• Write it down: Then craft a vision that is relatable, specific and has an obvious sense of purpose. Be upfront about whom you serve and why it matters. Tell a story that’s hard to resist or ignore.
• Keep it catchy: A good story is sharable. Make sure that people can tweet or repost your message across all your networks. Summarize your vision in one elegant sentence.
• Add visuals: Even little kids know that the best stories come with pictures. A visual brand puts a face to your name so the community can instantly associate your logo with your cause.
No. 2: Getting Noticed
Now that you have a clear and coherent message, it’s time to spread awareness. Sure, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, but with a bit of ingenuity, you can amplify your voice.
First, get people talking about you. Many brands attract and keep their audiences primarily by word-of-mouth. Recommendations from friends, colleagues and family can go a long way.
Start with social media. Connect with donors and organizations on social platforms, and voice your take on the issues affecting your community. Take a cue from the World Wildlife Fund, which regularly posts gorgeous pictures of nature and animals to its Twitter feed. I think this strategy works because people love sharing snaps of beautiful places, and all that greenery jives with the WWF mission.
If pretty pictures aren’t your thing, then figure out what is. If there’s a statistic that’s keeping you up at night, present it simply and boldly. If you have an emotionally powerful image to share, get it out there.
Additionally, dig around for conferences and events taking place in your region. If there’s nothing happening on the ground, go online. All those like-minded people are the ideal audience to build a connection with.
No. 3: Building A Culture Of Philanthropy
Although the concept is fairly new, it’s not just a trendy buzzword, but also a legitimate goal for nonprofits to strive for. What is a culture of philanthropy? It’s about shining a spotlight on culture instead of just strategy. You can host all the bake-offs in the world, but your mission likely won’t achieve its full potential if your organization’s culture is underdeveloped.
So, what does a culture of philanthropy look like? According to an Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund paper, one core component of a culture of philanthropy is that there is a shared responsibility for its development. Everyone sees themselves as an integral part of fundraising efforts and is committed to a single vision.
In a culture of philanthropy, where giving is as natural as the air you breathe, fundraising isn’t a chore. It’s a gift, and gifts are given cheerfully. This can help set you up for success because everyone is pitching in.
A culture of philanthropy is also one where donors are valued not just for how much they give but also for the relationships they establish with your organization.
No. 4: Attracting And Retaining Donors
If you’re up to speed on fostering a culture of philanthropy, then you already know that attracting and retaining donors is all about building relationships. If you’re approaching contributors like they’re ATM machines, it’s time to update your mindset.
If you’re starting from ground zero, approaching contributors and supporters can be scary. But by now, you’re halfway there. After you’ve researched and identified your prospects, invite them to your first fundraiser or just ask for advice. If you feel comfortable, send a formal letter describing your goals and asking directly for a contribution.
A fun, low-key option is to host a small event and invite a few potential stakeholders while leaving it open to the community. Never underestimate the power of middle- and low-income community members. The point here isn’t to generate revenue but to introduce yourself and your mission to a potential base of supporters.
If you already have regular contributors, then organizing a donor appreciation night is in order. Again, the point isn’t to drum up cash but to deepen already existing relationships and make your supporters feel important. Have a pitch planned: For instance, you can raise a quick toast to your organization and thank your guests for their support, but leave work at work for the night. The event should be an opportunity to cultivate a more personal connection. Be friendly, be warm and let them know you care about them as humans, not faceless check-writing machines.
Whether you’re already established or just starting out, remember that you should send out social media updates, testimonials, thank-you letters and invites to tour your space on a regular basis.
Is Your Nonprofit Ready To Take On The World?
While getting your nonprofit off the ground can be time-consuming, it’s also deeply rewarding because of all the communities that rely on your service. You’re in it because your cause matters, so get out there and overcome the challenges you’re facing on your journey to a better world.
This article was written by Evgeny Redjebov and published on Forbes.com