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Your Nonprofit’s Success Depends On Your Ability to Change

Your Nonprofit’s Success Depends On Your Ability to Change 

By Mary Ellen Clark, Vice President  Midwest Region

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.  Winston Churchill

I was reminded last week, when I was visiting with an executive director about her organization’s budget and next year’s programs—which for them begins with firecrackers rather than the start of a shiny new calendar—that we shouldn’t forget what our organizations looked like just a short while ago.

Those of you who can celebrate that your balance sheet remained stable without serious change – or even improvement — during the past 18 months are few. We know from surveys and interviews with organizations from all sectors and regions that flexibility, planning, and the ability to change with the tides are the reasons why they are still here, continuing to meet the needs of those they’ve served for years. We should all celebrate that success!

As for campaigns during this time, there are those that began successfully and reached their goals, some that had to be put on hold or downsized, and some that still sit on the board’s future agenda.

You can visit our website and read the results of the Giving USA report on giving during 2009 to see how your organization compared to others in the country and your region.  Individuals, corporations and foundations are still giving, and they are encouraged by the stories of those organizations capable of continuing programs dear to them. You can be assured that those donors will remember the organization who knew how to adapt to the recession when they make their year-end gifts.

We’ve heard from many of you about how you’ve adapted. Whether it’s with less direct mail, trimming less vital programs, hosting smaller events, or downsizing staff, all organizations have made changes. Some would say that these have been changes that they’ve considered for some time and just needed a reason to make them, such as forcing staff out of the office and into the homes of more major gift and planned giving prospects, focusing on development of the website and online giving, or changing an event that was in need of a facelift.

What will your organization look like in another year? Plan now:

  • Tell the story of how your organization managed this year. This is – and should be — part of your case for support. Donors need to hear that you received the largest gift in the history of the organization, or that you increased scholarship gifts this year, or that you’ve held the organization stable.
  • Carefully evaluate the outcomes of changes in your programs — what worked and what didn’t — and make changes now. Focus on those activities that are typically less expensive or that interact with donors who have a strong connection to your charity.
  • Listen to your constituents. Select a few key constituents and have crucial conversations with them about your organization. They will be grateful you asked, and you will likely learn something new about yourself.
  • Be creative with your staff. Staff development budgets are frequently the first to face cuts. Instead, consider webinars that eliminate travel costs and less-expensive (not necessarily less frequent) ways to communicate with your stakeholders. It is possible that a previously eliminated position can now be filled.
  • Jump in the “deep end,” as organizations that are afraid to join the high-tech world of fundraising call it!  Whether you join Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, try one new communication tool for your organization in the next year. Online fundraising is still a small part of overall giving, but with new generations of donors emerging who demand different ways to connect your organization, you cannot afford to ignore the world of “tech” any longer!

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