Nonprofits and social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes. It’s usually the big ones, however, who get media attention and recognition as model organizations. But running a small nonprofit or being the sole development professional can be very different from working in a large organization. A one-person development team doesn’t have the luxury of specialized staff for major gifts, peer-to-peer fundraising, and grant writing.
When you’re on your own, you need to be very judicious in how you spend your time and resources. Unfortunately, many nonprofit professionals are afraid to try new fundraising strategies and are overlooking the development opportunities available to them. Learn how to spot the best funding strategies for your organization by assessing what has worked in the past, the potential return on investment, and the qualities of your community and cause sector.
Assess the Past
It is tempting for social impact organizations to simply repeat the campaigns and events they do every year, but “that’s the way we’ve always done it” should not be the guiding principle behind your development efforts. Social enterprises should make strategic fundraising decisions that account for their existing resources and probable return on investment. Assess your revenue sources, identify what funds you can really count on, and what endeavors aren’t worth the trouble.
Take a look at your revenue breakdown and ask
• What are our top three revenue sources?
• Which types of funding take the most of development’s time and effort?
• Which revenue source has the best opportunity to grow?
Development at a small organization is all about making the most out of what you have. If you are spending an inordinate amount of time or money on a fundraising endeavor that doesn’t make a dent in your annual budget, it’s time to clean house.
Return on Investment
Nonprofit organizations of all sizes tend to be very risk-averse and budget-conscious. This can prevent some frivolous spending, but it also holds development professionals back from investing in new strategies and funding sources. Board members and other staff may be especially hesitant to spend on development tools and initiatives. In their eyes, development is supposed to bring money in, not add to expenses.
Investing in new fundraising software or marketing allows your nonprofit to reach more potential donors. When considering any fundraising strategy, don’t rule out an idea solely due to up-front costs. Evaluate based on return on investment to make sure you are making the most of your time and energy.
Reaching for the low-hanging fruit means taking advantage of the development opportunities that are most easily attainable. Why go to the trouble of climbing the tree when there is some perfectly good fruit within reach?
For a development professional at a small nonprofit, this means studying your community and audience to see what fundraising opportunities are readily available to you. If, for example, you live in a city where running is a popular hobby and there is a race almost every weekend, year-round peer-to-peer fundraising might be a good fit. Your supporters can create campaigns forevery 5K, trail race, or marathon they have coming up.
On the other hand, if you have a board member who has connections to a large local business, you can use this contact to negotiate a sponsorship or corporate fundraising campaign. Local events can also be great opportunities for fundraising and engagement, with both individuals and organizations.
When you are the only development professional at a small nonprofit, deciding what fundraising initiatives to spend your time on is vitally important. By analyzing the potential return on investment and tapping into the connections and development opportunities at hand, you can maximize the results of your work.
If you find that too much of your time is being taken up by simple tasks, consider getting a volunteer or intern involved. These days, you can even recruit skilled volunteers to take on new fundraising projects, such as grant-writing. Platforms like Catchafire and LinkedIn allow you to post volunteer position descriptions and connect with qualified candidates. This is a great option for development initiatives that you want to try out, but don’t personally have the time to launch.
Your small nonprofit may have limited manpower, but by carefully assessing your options, you can make smart decisions that expand your fundraising.