Is Your Nonprofit on the Right Track?

“Does this make sense, and does it get us to the right place?”

I hope you’ve asked yourself this more than once at work. (Some days, minute to minute?) It’s smart to engage the brakes from time to time, to pause to ensure that organizationally speaking, you’re headed in the right direction, with common cause and purposeful pursuit.

These are signs that you’re likely positioned for success, but they aren’t the only ones. They are, however, indicators that we’ve seen in the thousands of successful nonprofits we’ve worked with in our over 50 years. Can you relate?

First, there’s an internal culture of intention

Even among the best-led, tightest teams, people will disagree about how work should get done. Diversity in thought keeps an organization rich in new ideas.

But at the heart of the work, there’s passion and purpose that binds people together.

What keeps “right track” organizations moving in the same direction despite mini “derailments” is a deeply felt sense of shared passion and purpose for your nonprofit’s mission. Your people work from the heart; they believe in the power of what they do and what they can achieve if they work together.

This shared culture of intention drives everything, from marketing and PR to board appointments, donor appeals, administrative functions and vendor selection. It also leads decisions at every touchpoint, among the staff and executive director as well as among board members, volunteers, donors, grantees and other invested voices.

You’ve set your sights on retaining donors, not just getting a one-time gift

It’s the age-old nonprofit story of donor acquisition vs. donor retention—what to do after you’ve got them inside the door so they stay at the table and commit to your cause long-term.

Why not go for the one-time gift? Simply put, it takes more of your staff’s resources, time and energy, and in the end, the long-term payoff may not be as great either.

Proof is in some recent numbers.

Highlights from the FEP’s 2016 Donor Retention Supplement reveal that two out of 10, or 23 percent, of new donors continue to give after their one-time gift, while six out of 10, or 60 percent, of existing donors continue to give. What’s more, 76 percent of repeat donors end up giving another larger gift of $250 or more, while only 48 percent—or less than half—of new donors give at that same level.

You engage from the heart, not from fundraising quotas

Be real and talk from a place of sincerity, or all donors will see is a sales call, which could result in them moving from feeling neutral to negative about your organization.

Anyone who’s involved in building relationships or donor development/fundraising retention must be a person who genuinely likes to listen to people and cares about their stories—about their families, their connection to your mission, and even about their life’s work that led them to you.

Seemingly small but genuine gestures of gratitude make the biggest impact. Extend a hand of partnership.

A simple thank-you can have a powerful domino effect. In her book, Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk revealed that donors who received a thank-you phone call from a board member within 24 hours of receiving the gift gave 39 percent more than other “non-thanked” donors the next time they were solicited. After 14 months, those called were giving 42 percent more.

You are constantly researching new technologies to make your nonprofit work smarter

You’re not afraid to explore new technologies that improve your work, whether it’s website optimization, social media and marketing, peer fundraising, annual appeals via email, or the administrative tools that sync them together to perform tasks more efficiently.

If technology talk pushes you to the edge of your comfort zone, seek out others to lend expertise. It’s a perfect platform to share your ambitions—and reservations—candidly with staff and board members to elicit other potential pools of talent and resources, like a local college intern, or social media consultant or freelancer hired only to put a plan in place and/or get key elements operational.

Remember, there’s also free educational information via webinars and podcasts. The Association of Fundraising Professionals is a good place to start with numerous education and development resources.

Any other signs you’d like to share? Please do; it’s the best way to learn how to stay (or get) on the right track. Let’s share in the journey.

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