The Challenges Facing Today’s Nonprofits

This is the blog transcript of our video “The Challenges Facing Today’s Nonprofits”. If you’d like to see more of our videos, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

Do you work for a nonprofit? Are you constantly pulling your hair out thinking of how to keep your board or boss happy? Are you continually being asked to do more with less resources and talent?

Hey everyone, I’m Ian Campbell, CEO of Mission Suite. Before we jump into today’s video, do me a favor and hit the subscribe button and ring the bell so that you’re notified whenever we post new videos.

Let’s face it, in this semi-post COVID world; every organization is facing challenges like they’ve never seen before. Businesses have seen tough times over the last eighteen months, from supply chain and logistics to labor shortages and keeping everyone safe and healthy. And no other segment has felt this pinch more than nonprofit organizations.

Just think about that for a second; imagine if your job were to raise money and ask for donations. Not easy, right, but then imagine having to ask for donations at the height of COVID when so many people were worried about so many things.

So, in this episode, let’s dive a little deeper into some of the challenges nonprofits face. And maybe we can even talk a little bit about how to solve some of those challenges. I have the utmost respect for nonprofit organizations, as they dedicate so much to solving problems, fighting disease, and lifting our communities, so I’m excited to talk today about nonprofits.

Constantly Adapting to Change

One thing I’ve noticed that most nonprofit organizations have in common is their ability to adapt to change. And I think this might come from the various ways nonprofits raise funds, and they are constantly shifting gears and cultivating donation sources.

Even under ideal circumstances, most nonprofits employ several revenue streams. Think about where you donate, and then think about all the ways they are reaching out to you and asking for a donation – and you’re just one person. On the whole, a typical 501 c 3 is likely to use at least five fundraising methods. That could include soliciting corporate donations and sponsors, government grants and sponsorships, private grant research and writing, charity events – in person and virtual, silent, live auctions, membership drives, and much more. It’s a lot. And none of this happens; each source of funding carries with it its list of tasks.

For example, a silent auction needs a team of volunteers to create an outreach list, call and visit local businesses and ask them to donate, collect items, keep track of bidding, collect money, and so much more. And this is just one piece of the fundraising pie. Nonprofit leaders have to be agile and adapt to changing needs, but they always need to think about the next opportunity.

Any nonprofit will tell you that you rarely get to pause your fundraising efforts. And as the world and economy changes, your cause has to adapt to keep the funding flowing. Stopping a campaign is problematic for so many reasons. You can lose donors; you can suffer from decreased engagement, which can also lead to some inertia for your cause. If you stop, you risk losing the momentum you have. So, nonprofits and their leaders have become experts in anticipating changing needs, re-directing, re-focusing donors, and seeking new ways to continue their funding efforts.

All of this while actively working to keep members, donors, partners, volunteers, and sponsors engaged. And this brings us to our next nonprofit challenge: engagement.

Keeping Everyone Engaged

Another constant in the nonprofit world is learning how to keep your donors and your community engaged. Yes, the primary goal of a nonprofit is keeping your cause funded, but you also need to think about how you can keep your donors giving, how can you keep them coming back, and how can you reward them for their support. It’s a tricky line to walk; keeping your donors interested while still devoting as much of your funding as you can to your cause.

We’ve all heard the adage that it is more efficient to keep a customer than to have to go out and find a new customer. The same is true for donors. Once you have a donor committed to your cause, your time and money are best spent keeping that donor engaged. Many nonprofit organizations measure the viability of their organization not just by dollars donated but by donor engagement.

Your CRM should be able to measure K P I s of engagement such as email open rates, click-through rates, social media interaction and more. If this is confusing or sounds like something you need help with, please reach out; I’d be happy to talk it over with you. Mission Suite could be smart to help nonprofits keep track of K P I s, donor journeys, automation and more!

There are limitless organizations where a person can donate. And when you have a new donor, you should be using every tool in your toolbox to keep them engaged with your cause. Studies have shown that donors want to feel appreciated and recognized above anything else. Using a CRM that can personalize messages could be an ideal combination of automation and personalization to keep your community coming back for more.

Homework time: you and your nonprofit team should create a CRM journey for your donors to ensure they are feeling personally recognized. Hold off on the ‘ask’ for just a bit and learn about your new donor:

  • How did they get here?
  • How are they related to your cause?
  • Would they like to be more involved?
  • What can we give to this donor to make them feel engaged with our cause?

These answers can help you get to know your donors, and in the end, this is really what you want. Building a relationship with your donors will pay off in the long run; you’ll have a more engaged community and a higher lifetime value from a donor who feels connected.

Think about what other steps you can take – from a marketing perspective – that will make this donor a sustainable asset to your organization. Would your nonprofit rather have a one-time donation or a truly connected donor who volunteers, educates, spreads the word about your cause? Clearly, engagement becomes key to securing a lifelong donor.

One more note about engagement: there are many ways you can track the engagement of your donors and sponsors. Anyone with a robust marketing plan should also be keeping an eye on the metrics of their efforts. Make sure you’re looking at attendance at events, volunteer rates, email opens, social media engagement and much more. When we talk about engagement, it’s critical that you can see the whole picture and draw some conclusions about what is working and what is not.

And, if you have any questions about engagement, please reach out; I’d be happy to talk more about it.

The next big challenge facing nonprofits – and just about everyone at one point or another – is tech.

Tech Challenges

Nonprofits have never been early adopters, mainly because they are putting time and effort into raising money for their cause. Yes, they need tech, and they also need to find solutions to their needs and challenges that can save them time, money, and effort. A functioning C R M that can foster engagement, track leads (and more) is essential for making nonprofits work smarter.

Nonprofits also had – and possibly still have – struggles with live and virtual events. In-person events, galas, and fundraisers have long been a cornerstone of fundraising. And a great way to get your donors in the same room and recognize and award your top contributors. Essentially live events have been so important, and many nonprofits could never imagine having to cut that critical piece out of their regimen.

Then, COVID hit, and all of a sudden, no one was meeting in person anymore. Nonprofits – being the agile organizations that they are – had to quickly pivot to find an alternate way to fill these two essential functions. And while COVID didn’t lead to the invention of online events, it forced everyone to get more comfortable staring at each other through their computer instead of over dinner.

Nonprofits now had to adapt to find tech that could make the virtual experience as good – or better – than their typical in-person event. Many had to learn ‘on the fly’ or risk losing momentum when so much was uncertain.

When I talk to nonprofits, tech – and specifically tech related to events – remains one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Since cutting those events out was not an option, event teams had to catch up fast. Conveying messages to potential attendees – how to register, attend, and participate – was a big part of keeping virtual events viable. Most important was making sure everyone in the community still felt connected at a virtual event. When so many nonprofits put so much time and effort into making each event “better than last year,” they had to step up for an annual event that was way out of their norm.

For as many problems as tech seemed to create, it answered even more. Personalized digital invitations with instructions and guided experiences gave members more confidence to join a virtual event. And a lead capture tool could be your answer for building better connections while online. This could allow you to connect like-minded attendees in virtual ‘rooms’ for better online networking.

Finding the right tech and systems to connect your virtual event seamlessly, revenue streams and your C R M is critical to the continued sustainability of many nonprofits. And, while many probably think “I can’t afford” that, I’m telling you that there are affordable and effective options, like Mission Suite, to fit nonprofits’ needs.

One last challenge I want to touch on is nonprofit volunteers.

Volunteer Workforce

Nonprofits have another unique challenge to face: it’s their volunteer workforce. Think about it – what other organization has such a sizeable unpaid workforce that they need to keep interested and engaged? In addition to maintaining donor engagement – online and in-person – nonprofits have to do much of the same work for their workforce to keep them connected, too.

Turning your volunteers into super-partners with the same T L C you use for your donors leads to more connected, committed and content volunteers. It is worth your time to do some donor homework and create a journey for them, too. Think about what they need from you: training, direction, recognition, and then make sure your messages are hitting those marks.

Imagine if you had some of the absolute best volunteers; how could you hold onto them? How can you make them not just a champion for your cause but for the work they do for your nonprofit? Well, just like your donors, your volunteers are looking for a partnership; they want to feel connected to the cause, the team and the specific job at hand, so developing a recognition plan is essential. A volunteer is far more likely to stay connected to a cause when the team feels appreciated and cared for.

Testing, Tweaking and Adjusting

And, last but not least, nonprofits – any organization, really – need to be able and open to testing any and all of these methods and making changes where they need to. What worked great one year may not work as well over time. This doesn’t mean your plan or strategies are bad, but they just might need a little updating to carry the same enthusiasm. Your messages will change, and you should be open to it. Frankly, if your needs and messages aren’t changing, you are not paying attention.

Many organizations – for-profit and nonprofit – will regularly survey their team and clients – or donors – and use that data to test new methods. A survey can deliver valuable information to you and your leadership. And it can also make donors and volunteers feel like their opinion matters.

The bottom line is this

Nonprofits are facing many challenges – we all are. But it is how we adapt and use the tools available that will make us successful.

We could all take a lesson from the perseverance and adaptability that most nonprofits show. They have to remain agile even when it seems impossible. And, if you can arm your nonprofit team with the right tools, you’ll be that much further ahead.

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