Eleven Ideas for 2011: Re-invigorating Your Non-Profit for the New Year

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

As we ease into the third week of 2011, let’s look ahead but learn from our experiences of 2010. We hope that that our crystal ball and our predictions will be sharp enough and relevant to the worlds of all who read eJewish Philanthropy and who and are considering how to build upon previous experiences for a successful 2011.

Here are a few of our basic predictions for 2011: capital (bricks and mortar) campaigns will return after having been shelved temporarily; endowment campaigns will continue to expand; umbrella campaigns will continue to experience malaise and, in some instances, significant declines; environmental issues will tantalize some donors and we will witness some modest increases in giving for environmental and animal causes. Generally giving will equal what we saw in 2009 … totaling at least $300 billion and representing counterintuitive results because of a still-struggling economy.

Along with so many others, we contend that success in the “new normal” requires setting formal strategies. While we have been saying “plan ahead” for some time, we often find that organizations become so caught up with the daunting day-to-day activities that sound and thoughtful planning may not always receive deserved attention. For those who have already created a comprehensive 2011 plan, we commend you, but we also suggest that you consider our “11 Ideas for 2011,” some ideas which you may have not considered. Note that this impressive to-do-list comes about as a result of a brainstorming session that we did with our colleagues a few weeks ago, a collaborative and inspiring, yet simple, process that we encourage all organizations to engage in.

As you read these 11 ideas, make a mental checklist to determine if you are addressing them and if so, how are you addressing them? If you have not thought about these important recommendations, be sure to schedule meetings with leadership to discuss and strategize about these key thoughts. Please note that some of our suggestions may not be new but they are age-old fundraising techniques that must not to be overlooked and, therefore, we feel should be stressed especially as we begin a new year.

  1. Develop a strategy for financial transparency. There are still so many non-profits that are not displaying enough transparency and donors and prospects expect to see this. Make sure to have an organizational financial audit, post your IRS form 990 to your website, and provide an annual and even semi-annual report. Creating a five year financial plan to help your organization move towards better transparency is an important task for all non-profits to consider.
  2. Don’t underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings with your donors. This is such a simple idea but we have seen a real retreat from the traditional in-person meetings. It seems very easy, and much less intimidating, to send an email or pick up the phone, but it is key to go that extra mile and sit down with your donors in their living room or office and find out about what they are happy with or would like to see changed. Show them that they matter. You will be much more likely to achieve your fundraising goals by taking the time to meet in person.
  3. Do more to educate your organization about donor segments. We have learned that women who are part of male-female couples are most often the key decision-maker in the fundraising process and overall women have been seen as more generous than men. This alters some previous beliefs about male vs. female donors of the past. We have also heard that millennials, who are donors under 35, are giving less than this cohort did a decade ago. We encourage all nonprofits to develop individualized outreach plans for the various donor prospect segments.
  4. Re-evaluate your website. Make sure that it is up-to-date, accessible, effectively conveying your message and easy to navigate. Too often websites go without being refreshed and this is the first place that prospects and donors will go when looking for information about your non-profit. Also consider offering online giving options because it is a good way for individuals to make smaller sized gifts to your organization.
  5. Utilize technology, but don’t depend solely on this for communication. Technology is key for a number of communications (i.e. getting your message out or promoting events), but it cannot be the only avenue. We’ve witnessed a move away from traditional communications methods and while it is important to change with the times your organization must not forget to alternate its techniques to reach a broader community.
  6. Database management is critical to ensuring that your message is received. There must be a staff person in charge of maintaining an up-to-date database because without a correct phone number, address and email (very important and oftentimes missing and difficult to locate) no one will know about your exciting campaign plans or funding challenges and your goals will not be met.
  7. Improve the volunteer-professional partnership. Meet as a group and strategize about what can be done to strengthen this relationship. Too often there is a divide between these two groups which makes it very difficult to successfully meet organizational goals.
  8. Get to know your donors well. Invest in donor research capabilities or employ an outside source (like our firm) to research your donors. Enhanced donor research is part of the “new normal” that guides the non-profit arena and if you do not focus time and resources on this tactic then you may not have the most up-to-date information about your donors’ needs, capacities, and interests. This is very important for successful fundraising and for cultivating new and current relationships.
  9. When reaching out to donors, find a balance between “emotional” and “intellectual honesty”. In order to engage support you must make an emotional appeal, something that will tear at the heartstrings but you must also be able to provide key organizational information like financial reports and strategic plans to be able to prove that you are a viable non-profit to support. It is important to have a strong balance between the two and not to focus solely on one side.
  10. Set realistic expectations and be sure to convey them to your constituency. Be open and honest about what you expect to accomplish. Be positive, but also realistic. It’s important that your constituency understands your financial and organizational state, as well as what you expect to achieve in the following year. There should be no major surprises.
  11. Think outside the “tzedekah box”! Be innovative as you look to reach out to your constituents. Try to incorporate varied approaches. Some examples include, sending short surveys and providing results by email, providing testimonials on your website with personal videos, creating a contest for a campaign event, etc.

Please keep these 11 ideas in mind as you put your organization’s New Year’s resolutions and plans into practice. We will be discussing these ideas in greater detail throughout the year in our various eJewish Philanthropy contributions and look forward to hearing from you about what your organization is focusing on for a stronger 2011.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.