- Posted by EmpowerNonprofit
- On December 28, 2017
This is that time when people start throwing around their New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, I have my own personal goals for 2018 (Make a success of my new consulting business! Get more quality time outdoors! Etc.), but here are five suggestions nonprofit organizations should consider adding to their list.
Resolution #1: I will stop wishing I could operate more like a “business”
Because you already are a business! (Just ask your secretary of state.) That means practicing business basics like taking in more money than you spend, but it also demands a change in the way you view programming. Successful for-profits focus on the quality of their products/services as much as sales and marketing. Successful nonprofits should behave the same way. In 2018, treat your programs like products and invest in elevating their quality. Your stakeholders (and development staff) will thank you.
Resolution #2: I will ask my clients what they really need
Nonprofits have been pushed to gather data and measure outcomes—with good reason. Funders want justification for their investment. But outcome mania has made many organizations too numbers focused. In designing programs with an eye on measuring impact, some nonprofits have neglected the people they serve. In 2018 ask your clients if they are happy. Then, ask them what they really need. The answers to both questions may surprise you. The best organizations will report and react to those answers every bit as intentionally as they report and react to the numbers they gather.
Resolution #3: I will diversify my revenue streams
Yes, this is a no-brainer, but nonprofits are creatures of habit. Too many stick with what works, leaving themselves vulnerable to changes in the funding landscape. They justify their habits with rationalizations that may or may not be grounded in fact. “Our donors support us because we don’t use government money.” Really? Wouldn’t they be happy to hear that you successfully pursued a federal grant that doubled the impact of their donation? In 2018 remember that diversification yields strength, especially in a world where few funding sources can be considered locks. To that end, pursue new grants, donors and government dollars that make you better positioned to weather any storm.
Resolution #4: I will move beyond event-based thinking
I don’t understand the nonprofit obsession with special events. During my career in for-profit publishing, the quality of the books I published drove buying decisions. The idea of putting on a 5K or gala to coerce someone to buy a book sounds ridiculous. But that’s exactly how much of the nonprofit world operates. I understand the power of events as engagement, marketing and fundraising tools. But I’m amazed at how much time and energy goes into planning and executing events. If nonprofits started costing out events—factoring in staff and volunteer time as well as opportunity costs for activities neglected (program delivery), many would rightly de-emphasize events. My additional dream for 2018 is that donors start rewarding organizations more for the good they do rather than for the quality of their gala auction items or scenic value of their 5K course.
Resolution #5: I will be more willing to take risks
Coming from the for-profit world I am surprised by how conservative most nonprofit types are—not politically but in terms of their business philosophy. The for-profit world is built on risk-taking and a willingness to fail in pursuit of a dream. This let’s-go-for-it-no-matter-the-danger-ahead attitude has driven America’s greatness. So why does the nonprofit sector sometimes feel like it was incubated in a failed Soviet bloc state? Nonprofits and their boards are too often comfortable doing the same thing that has worked for years—even when there are clearly superior ideas available. Risk is a topic I’ll explore in future posts, but for now I’ll just encourage everyone to be more open to taking some chances in 2018. Testing innovative program ideas, changing your revenue mix, or revisiting your staffing structure may help make this the best, most impactful year in your organization’s history.
Have a happy and empowered 2018!