By Katy Snyder
JVA Communications/Resource Development Associate
In response to the economic downturn affecting nonprofits across the country, a coalition of eight regional organizations convened an emergency forum called Nonprofit 911 on Dec. 15, 2008, bringing together over 500 nonprofit, business and government leaders in Washington, D.C., to develop a plan of action that redefines how the nonprofit sector operates in changing economic times (click here to read or listen to NPR’s story about it).
While the forum focused on the plight of nonprofits in Washington D.C., nonprofits in Denver and across the country are feeling the same effects as foundations continue to cut back and individual donations decline.
We’ve come up with our own version of 911 for nonprofits, but we’d love to hear more from you about what you think nonprofits need to do to weather the tough times ahead.
Learn from the business sector. The plight of the financial sector and auto industry are good cautionary tales. Waiting until you are in a desperate situation is not the time to get help. Before you get to the point of no return, examine your operating costs and the services you provide. Do you have sky-high operating costs and programs that no longer make sense for the population that you serve? Bad economic times are ripe for innovation (remember the old “necessity is the mother of invention” saying?). Which brings us to our next topic…
Make a plan. Strategic plans are a great way to prepare for upcoming challenges and opportunities, and they let you face the changing economic times with a plan. By participating in a strategic plan, you’ll be able to decide as an organization exactly where you want to be in the next three years and the precise steps you’ll need to take to get there. A fund development plan will help you tackle your financial plans for the next year by taking an in-depth look at how you raised funds last year and will help you create an action plan for the coming year that lays out where you want to be, how you’ll get there and who will help you do it.
Sell, sell, sell. No, we’re not talking stock here, but social enterprise. Social enterprise, which is usually defined as selling a good or service that is linked to a social–improvement mission, is a great way to diversify your revenue and become less reliant on grants. JVA has helped several nonprofits come up with products that help them bring in revenue and further their mission (click here to read a YourHub.com story about it), and we can help you, too.
Evaluate. While some funders have cut back, many haven’t. Those that are still funding will be getting more requests as nonprofits have fewer foundations to apply to. To be competitive, you need to have the best proposal possible, and that means evaluating your programs. The organization that can best show how the value of the dollars invested in their programs will have the best shot at getting funding when foundation money is stretched. Evaluating your programs will also help your organization decide which, if any programs need to be reorganized, scaled back or even increased, especially as the economy affects your clientele.
Dialogue. Ask other nonprofits what they’re doing to weather the storm and, if need be, how you could create a strategic alliance or merge programs or services together. You’ll make yourself more attractive to funders who will see that you are not duplicating services, and you can streamline costs. If you foresee yourself in a dire situation (or you are already in one), consider if you and a similar nonprofit should merge. JVA can help you facilitate these conversations in a non-threatening way.
Volunteers are valuable. If you have already asked volunteers and individual donors for more donations, and haven’t seen much return, change your approach and ask them for their time instead. Volunteer hours are invaluable and translate into funds: They improve your programs, help you plan fundraising events, and funders look for evidence of strong volunteer support in grant proposals. Make sure you think of ways to show appreciation for volunteers that are cost-effective but still show your volunteers just how valuable they are.
In the coming weeks, look for more “Nonprofit 911” on Nonprofit Street, and feel free to suggest 911 topics you’d like to hear more about.