growing a small nonprofit

Best Practices in Growing a Small Nonprofit

by Sandy Rees on Nov 19, 2019

Growing a small nonprofit is challenging yet rewarding work.

After all, the bigger your nonprofit gets, the more lives you can change. 

And making a difference is the whole reason your nonprofit exists.

So, what does it take to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be)?

There are many steps to growing a small nonprofit. It takes planning, strategy, and a whole lot of good old-fashioned work.

The trick is to choose the activities that will move you farthest and the fastest with the least investment of time, energy, and money, but all for the greatest long-term gain. 

Easier said than done, right?

Here are 10 growth hacks that can help speed up your nonprofit’s growth so you can create more revenue to fuel the growth you’re looking for. 

1. Find an organization to model. 

There’s no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Find a nonprofit that’s just a couple of steps ahead of you in their growth and watch what they do. It will keep you from wasting time with trial and error. Even if you can’t meet in person or have a phone conversation with anyone from that nonprofit, simply watching what they send and when they send it can teach you something valuable.

2. More transformational and less transactional fundraising.

Fundraising comes in two types: transactional where the donor gets something for their money, and transformational where the donor gives simply because they want to support your nonprofit’s good work. It’s common for young nonprofits to gravitate to what they’ve seen before - events and “fundraisers” like car washes, bake sales, calendar sales, etc. These are all transactional and require a lot more time and energy than transformational fundraising. Now, here’s the real problem: If the bulk of your fundraising is transactional, it isn’t sustainable. Events and fundraisers are time-consuming and labor-intensive. Instead of getting on the special event hamster wheel, focus more on transformational giving, which requires you to focus on relationships with your donors. Shoot for having a balance of the two types, or even better, more transformational than transactional. 

Here’s an easy test to see how you’re doing: Make a list of everything you’ve done in the past 12 months to raise money. Mark all the transactional fundraising with an X and mark all the transformational fundraising with a Y. You should have more Y than X. If not, you need a different plan for the coming 12 months.

3. Inspire people to give.

What you say about what your nonprofit’s work will have a big impact on whether or not people give. Use boring, jargon-filled, vague language and you’ll turn people off. Tell people what you do in language that sizzles and they’ll give. One easy way to add some juice to your message is to share your Core Number which is a description of what it costs you to deliver a unit of service. First figure out what your unit of service is – could be an hour of tutoring or a hot meal or a night’s stay in a shelter. Then, divide the total units of service from the past year into your total expenses for the same year and see what you get. 

For an animal shelter it might be $6.20 to provide a day of care (shelter, food, veterinary care). For a homeless shelter it might be $1.87 for a hot meal and a bed for the night. See how this works? Using your Core Number explains quickly what your nonprofit does and the donor can see how their donation will make a difference. That’s KEY to inspiring them to give.

4. Speak to spread the word.

As a young nonprofit, you need to build awareness fast. One of the best ways to do that is to put together a sizzling hot presentation and go speak in the community to civic clubs, church groups, professional associations and anywhere your Ideal Donor Prospects may be gathered. If you have a good talk and the right audience, you can walk away with names and emails, new volunteers, donations, and invitations to speak at other places. Check your local library or chamber of commerce for a list of organizations in your area. 

5. Leverage the power of relationships.

People give to organizations they have a link to and one of the strongest links is through a friend who is involved. So, get your Board, volunteers, staff, and even current donors engaged by reaching out to their friends to invite them to support your nonprofit. The easier you make it for people to take action, the more likely they’ll be to do it. Consider hosting an open house if you have a facility and ask each Board member or volunteer to drop in and bring a friend. Write an appeal and have each Board member sign it and mail/email it to their friends. Brainstorm other ways that those closest to your organization can get their friends involved, then pick one idea and run with it.

6. Fill your event by selling tables, not tickets.

When done well, special events can bring donations, new donors, awareness, and more. If you’re going to hold an event, sell it out. And here’s a ninja trick for a sellout. Selling tickets one at a time is exhausting, time consuming, and not much fun. Instead, sell whole tables at a time. Ask people to serve as Table Hosts to fill the seats at their table or sell a table as part of a sponsorship to a business. 

7. Use video to show people what your nonprofit does.

Video is the hottest communication tool out there right now and it’s easy and affordable to use. If you have a smart phone, you can shoot video. No one expects video to be polished and highly produced, so grab your phone and shoot a really short video (1-2 minutes) of your nonprofit in action. You can easily post it on YouTube, share it on Facebook, and include it in an email newsletter. Or, host a Facebook Live and show people how your nonprofit is making a difference. Video can provide a powerful virtual experience for your donors and prospects and it’s the next best thing to being there.

8. Take advantage of community events.

There are lots of activities already going on in your community that you can take advantage of to get in front of people who are likely to care about your nonprofit to quickly grow awareness and find new donors. Look for volunteer fairs and mission fairs where you can exhibit. Think about street fairs and parades, too. If your Ideal Donor Prospects will be at the event, you probably should be there, too. The nice thing about this strategy is that someone else is doing the work of gathering people up so you can concentrate on encouraging them to join your family of supporters.

9. Grow a monthly giving program.

Starting a monthly giving effort is a great way to create consistent monthly revenue for your small nonprofit. Give your program a name (keep it simple) and offer several levels of giving. For example, $6.20 will provide 1 day’s care to an animal in the shelter, $24.80 covers their initial care, $43.40 provides care for a week, etc. If you can keep the first number below $12, it’s very easy for the donor to say “yes” to a monthly gift of that amount. Once you have everything ready, share it everywhere – on Facebook, in your email newsletter, in your personal email signature, at events, at speaking gigs… you’ll see your program start to grow and before long it will take off, providing predictable revenue every month to support your operations.

10. Get yourself a mentor or coach.

Hands down, one of the fastest ways to reach your goals is to get yourself a mentor or coach who has done what you’re trying to do and can guide you. A good coach can show you the ropes while holding you accountable, keeping you from getting sidetracked or stuck. Imagine how much more you could get done if you could say “no” to the things that weren’t productive for you? Look for a coach with a track record of success helping others do what you want to do, then make sure it’s a good fit. You want someone you feel comfortable with and who will call you out when you need it.

Growing your small nonprofit takes work. And it’s a lot like exercising to lose weight. You won’t see results immediately, but if you take consistent action, over time you’ll get exactly what you want. Your nonprofit will grow and flourish, fulfilling its mission of making a difference in the community.