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Nonprofits: Staying Relevant in Trying Times

Article by Kimberly Sellars-Bates

Originally published in SOFU Lifestyle

Since 2007, I have had the good fortune to work with people who have realized their reason for living. These courageous men and women wake up with energy and excitement because what they do doesn’t seem like work. They are excitedly fulfilling their mission to serve those whose voices have been marginalized. Unfortunately, there was a sudden and unexpected change in the atmosphere when COVID-19 hit.

Change was swift. There was no choice but to accept that COVID was affecting everything. There were mandatory lockdowns. Food and cleaning supplies were scarce. Programs stopped. Donations dropped. Funders’ priorities changed, and cash reserves dried up. Many nonprofits with longevity and purpose-filled programs closed.

I once read that acceptance is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. Instead of looking at the change as a negative, I encouraged nonprofits to view it as an opportunity. The important thing is to stay relevant during these trying times.

Being relevant means continuously creating new value in the eyes of those you serve by doing the following:

1)    Revisit your mission and programs

Take stock of your organization’s mission and programs. Is what you are offering still relevant? Do the programs make sense in the current climate? Are the programs providing services that are essential to the success of the population you serve?

2)    Access

One of the most pressing things is cash management. How much cash is on hand? What are your monthly operating costs? Where can you cut costs without cutting staff? (Consider subscriptions, office space, etc.)

3)    Be proactive

Nonprofits are facing an increase in demand for services. Research current trends against what your nonprofit is providing. Consider any possible changes in client needs, behaviors, and the operating environment that may occur over the next year and determine how the organization can best respond.

4)    Be transparent

Keep open lines of communication with the board of directors, employees, volunteers, donors, and constituents. The easiest way to learn what people are thinking, what problems or obstacles they are facing, what excites them, what disappoints them, or what their vision is for the organization, is to ask them directly. Model authenticity and vulnerability.

5)    Stand out

Explore innovative ways to deliver your services. Be creative. Consider virtual events, drive by and pop-up services, etc.

6)    4 funding streams

Financial health is crucial to the sustainability of nonprofit organizations but the pandemic has caused many to face significant disruptions to their funding streams. In order to ensure the sustainability of an organization, four funding streams must work cohesively: 1) Annual Fund, 2) Grants, 3) Corporate Sponsorships, and 4) Signature Fundraisers.

7)    Stay up to date

Become an expert in your field and the population you serve. Set up Google Alerts with your name, your organization’s name, and the population you serve.

8)    Donor retention

Research continues to show that it costs less to retain a donor than acquire a new one. Let your current donors know that they matter. Continue to cultivate them. Proactively ask them about your organization’s performance. This shows that you care about their donor experience.

9)    Collaborate

COVID caused many organizations to face the reality that while they play a vital role in their communities, they don’t always have the resources to do all of the work they want and need to do. Forging new partnerships with other nonprofits creates opportunities to find solutions to problems that previously might have gone unsolved.

10) Sustainability plan

Planning and positioning your nonprofit for sustainability is one of the most important steps your organization must take. The phrase “sustainability” describes a nonprofit that is able to sustain itself over the long term, perpetuating its ability to fulfill its mission.

I hope these tips have helped. One thing is certain, there will be life after COVID and services will be needed.