As someone who spent a decade working in the nonprofit sector as an executive director I know firsthand how important donors and volunteers are to the success of an organization. I also know that often, leaders struggle to communicate what they really want and need from supporters – and what they definitely don’t need. Looking back at my time in nonprofit leadership, there are five major things I wish I had asked our supporters to do (or not do!). Here they are:
1. Become a monthly donor
First of all, if a nonprofit is doing things right, they will say this to your face! Hopefully, your favorite nonprofits are asking you to be a monthly donor. But chances are, they are really going after your support once or twice a year, most likely when the fiscal year is coming to a close. Monthly donations are a huge win for a nonprofit organization. It’s money they can count on and helps them get a sense of what kind of growth might be possible. Even if you opt for something small, like $5 or $10, an organization will be grateful for your recurring gift.
2. Stop suggesting that they reach out to Oprah
Look we get it, Oprah has money — a LOT of money — as do many other celebrities with a conscience, but unless you have a direct connection to them or their contact information (no, their Twitter handle doesn’t count) please stop suggesting this idea to fundraisers. (Side note: if you do have their contact information, feel free to give it a whirl yourself). In my time as an executive director, I was encouraged to contact Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Queen Rania of Jordan…the list goes on. It’s not that it can’t work – these celebs and others have been known to fund some awesome organizations – but chasing pie-in-the-sky philanthropists is incredibly time-consuming. It’s much more worthwhile for most organizations to devote time and energy to building their grassroots donor base, which can offer much more long-term sustainability.
3. Talk about their work accurately
If you are a volunteer or board member for an organization, make sure you’ve asked for guidance on how you should be talking about the nonprofit’s work. Do you know the mission statement? Do you understand the programs? Most nonprofits are relatively small and rely heavily on volunteers to spread the word about their impact. They also might not have the time or staff to do a lot of coaching when it comes to messaging. Try your best to educate yourself thoroughly on the organizations you care about. The organizations will take notice, and it will probably brighten their day.
4. Engage with their social media
Whether it’s a college student spending an internship designing Canva graphics, or an organization-wide effort because there’s no money to hire a communications staff member, somebody is working hard on social media at your favorite nonprofit. Meanwhile, social media platforms are making it harder and harder to get noticed with organic content. Give a post a like or a share when you can! Nonprofits could use the boost.
5. Vote for people and policies that reflect their values
After the 2016 election, a donor once tried to reassure me that “nonprofits actually do better during Republican administrations.” What she meant, of course, is that nonprofits have tended to raise more money during Republican administrations — often in donations from people who voted for leaders and policies that directly contradict the mission of the organizations they claim to support.
A 501(c)(3) organization is restricted in how it can interact with politics. Nonprofits can champion ideas and they can even spend a little bit of their budget on lobbying, but they can’t tell you which candidates to vote for, no matter how much they want to. (Trust me, they want to.) It’s true that many nonprofits exist because of gaps in social services. But the work of nonprofits would only be strengthened if we closed those gaps.
If you’re a volunteer or give to a nonprofit (or a few!), I hope that in addition to these tips, you will also remember that you are valued and make really important work possible. If you work for a nonprofit and could use some help communicating your needs to donors, raising more money for your mission, or navigating the evolving digital landscape, get in touch with us! We would love to help. Book a free strategy call today.