Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

Your drive and passion launched your nonprofit; however it takes business savvy to keep things operating efficiently and sustainably. A nonprofit recently asked us to take a look at their fundraising efforts. It turns out their two biggest campaigns each year, demanding significant up-front costs and time, were not reaching top donors. Digging into their systems and data revealed some costly operations issues too.

It’s time to think like a consultant, and offer up solutions to handle common issues that nonprofits face.

Invest in Technology

Many nonprofits start small, and as they grow, acquiring technology often isn’t a top priority. But, it should be. According to a survey by NetChange, 19 percent of nonprofits say their ability to use technology for internal collaboration is hit-or-miss or simply ineffective.

Technology can help nonprofits run more efficiently and increase their mission impact. It touches nearly every aspect of operations from data that can make the case for funding decisions to social engagements that reach a wide audience. We know that nonprofit leaders want to adopt technology, however few make it a priority.

To effectively adopt technology, nonprofits need technical expertise coming from top management level and woven through the organization—not secluded in the information technology department. Done right, technology adoption isn’t about new apps or devices, it’s about strategically selecting tools that empower staff and members to deliver on the mission.

Take strategic planning further

Strategic planning is good. But knowing how your organization will carry out those plans is gold.

Once a strategic plan is made, the process isn’t over. Those plans should be acting as a strategic guide for short-term objectives—helping set the agenda for board meetings, deciding how and when to invest in technology, or even selecting new fundraising options. Strategic plans should also give birth to supporting plans—the drilled down activities and timelines needed to take action.

Because plans must be actionable, create a boiled down version, with key values, short goals, and clear statements about your mission and direction. This allows your plans to be living documents— that can be adjusted as situations change, and used as a “gut check” before launching or investing in anything.

Bring in outside ideasand experts

Remember the old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? It’s important to reach outside your nonprofit fishbowl for a fresh perspective particularly when your organization is stuck, e.g., attendance has dropped off at events, membership rates are flat, fewer people are interacting with social media posts.

An outsider can bring new energy to a mission, acting as a catalyst to help you try something new or learn something new. With a strategic plan in place, nonprofits can gauge when it’s right to invest in outside help in order to achieve goals.

For one client, analyzing donor data led to a major shift—from two rounds of annual giving appeals to online fundraising and a monthly giving program—that dramatically increased funding. The healthy return on investment (ROI) on the project will benefit them for years, and it inspired them to hire a pro to manage their social media accounts, since those channels had taken on new importance.

Bringing in outside ideas doesn’t have to mean costly hiring. Often it can be found by sending staff to a training class or trading ideas with another nonprofit. Listening to TED talks and podcasts from outside the industry, reading your own satisfaction survey results, or asking for feedback to help put things in perspective will provide you valuable insights and perspectives.

Nonprofits willing to think like a consultant, operate like a business, and take some risks will find that value over the long haul.


Edward Tuorinsky, a Service-Disabled Veteran, brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.

Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2019
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