Nonprofits are here to save the world, right! Well, maybe not, but they do try to address problems in many communities. They do good work. However, many of them are struggling.
Nonprofits are suffering for many reasons, but the five I focus on below are things that I feel can be addressed immediately. I know that funding is usually at the top of every nonprofit executive director’s list, duly noted. However, there are many changes that nonprofits can make that require little funding and may help stabilize the organization and lead to more funding in the future.
1. Limited Investment in Staff
We all know that nonprofits have tight budgets and can’t afford to pay people what they’re worth. With that said, it’s important that they invest in their staff to avoid high turnover. A 2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found that the average turnover rate was 17%, with 11% being voluntary (resignations and retirement). The survey also mentioned that over one-third of nonprofit employees surveyed felt that their were no advancement opportunities in their organization. What does this tell us? Nonprofit employees work hard (for low pay) and often burnout with rare chances to move up in an organization where they’ve put in blood, sweat and tears. They have no choice but to leave for career advancement and peace of mind. Investing in staff with quality professional development opportunities (seeing as most nonprofit employees will not be able to advance) may help them stick around a little longer and make them feel like their organization cares about them.
2. Lack of Meaningful Partnerships
Its no secret that there too many nonprofits are competing for the same dollars. Nonprofits can do two things in response to this: develop unique and competitive programs (that are more likely to get funded) and/or develop meaningful partnerships. Nonprofits in large urban areas are quite often competing for the same government grants, foundation monies, etc. Nonprofits should work together where they can in order to maximize impact (funders are all about maximizing impact). There is no need for organizations providing similar services to work in silos. When I say meaningful partnerships, I don’t mean giving lip service. Develop MEANINGFUL partnerships! Projects that include partnerships that are documented (through formalized agreements, MOUs, etc.) are more likely to be considered by funders.
3. No Measurement of Impact
Every funder has a bottom line. That is, they want to know what impact your organization is having on the problems you are seeking to address. For example, in workforce development a funder may want to know how many people you’ve trained, how many people you’ve helped get jobs, etc. It’s understandable that some organizations’ impact may not be easily quantifiable, but there still needs to be some measurement of impact. If an organization hasn’t been evaluating impact, then it will be more difficult for them to market their programs to a potential funder. Organizations struggling with this should work with a consultant (I know, I know, you don’t have the money) or tap in to academic institutions in the area (maybe a group of students can take this on as a studio project). The point is, you must measure impact if you want funders to take your grant applications seriously.
4. Haphazard Programs
Multi-service nonprofits fall into this quite often without even realizing it. These are the organizations that may have well intentions. They see a problem and try and design something to address it. Here’s the problem: no one agency can do everything. Before taking on new initiatives, organizations must decide if it relates to their mission, if it can be funded and if it is sustainable. Is this something that may be best handled by another organization? Is this an action that can be continually funded? Is it worth dedicating organizational resources that are already strained? Once these questions are answered, organizations can better see whether it makes sense for them to take on new initiatives. Being intentional about organizational actions will lead to more mission-oriented programs.
5. Limited Web Presence
Web presence is important for so many reasons including branding, measurement and simply being found. When you’re talking up your organization to someone, they are likely to say “sounds great, do you have a website?”. But its not just having a web presence–its having an active web presence. An updated website and social media account are required. Especially since “75% of young donors are turned off by out-of-date websites.” I suspect that this is true for traditional funders as well. No one wants to go to your website or Facebook account and see that your last update was months ago. Having an updated website can also help with recruiting volunteers as well. The first thing many volunteers do when considering volunteering with an organization is look at the website. Organizations should pick a small group of individuals (if you don’t have a designated person) to be responsible for updating the websites and social media accounts regularly.
Now, I don’t claim that these things will turn everything around struggling nonprofits. But, these are things that can be done with little to no funding to strengthen organizations.