Every day, more and more people are starting 501(c)(3) organizations.
As exciting as that is, it also means that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to set your nonprofit apart from the crowd.
Gone are the days where you could launch one project and be done with it; in today’s world, nonprofit leaders are overwhelmed with pressure to “keep up.” There are constantly things to think about: maintaining your social media, working with your board, cultivating donors, updating your website, hosting effective fundraising events… not to mention that little side task of changing the world.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices , you’re not alone. Scaling a nonprofit for impact is a tough job — but you can do it. Check out these 5 little-known secrets that will take your nonprofit to the next level.
1. Your nonprofit can (and should) be making a profit
The most successful nonprofits understand this one key concept: despite the name, nonprofits can (and should) make money, self-earn their operation funding, and adequately compensate their employees2. According to the National Council of Nonprofits3, “The key difference between nonprofits and for-profits is that a nonprofit organization cannot distribute its profits to any private individual (although nonprofits may pay reasonable compensation to those providing services).” Don’t apologize for your own success: as long as the income your nonprofit makes goes back into fulfilling your mission and not to any private individual, you’re good to go.4
So how can your nonprofit actually make a profit? There’s a world of fundraising opportunities beyond the grant out there. . You might consider selling tickets to an annual fundraising gala, or soliciting businesses to sponsor a program participant. Whatever your strategy, it’s important to do something in order to ensure that your nonprofit is as financially self-sustainable as possible. Relying on limited-term grants or single major donors for funding isn’t scalable in the long term — but a strong, organized independent income stream is.
2. Pick your board wisely
Just because someone is your best friend or family member doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily the right choice for your board of directors. Successful nonprofits make sure that they’re appointing the right people for the job. If you’re operating from the (correct) assumption that your nonprofit is a business, you’ll need professionally qualified people helping you with the organization’s finances, operations, marketing, and programming.
Don’t know anyone who is good with budgets? That’s okay — the Internet had made it easier than ever to find qualified candidates ready to make a difference. Utilizing tools like LinkedIn are a great way for nonprofits to find qualified board candidates. Try spending an hour or two exploring your network for potential candidates to approach, or just make a post advertising your new board opening. As a bonus, you’ll know that anyone who takes the time to reach out to you proactively is likely invested in the cause and ready to hit the ground running.
Successful nonprofits also know that sometimes “less is more” when it comes to board members. If you have 12 people on your board, you might be introducing some unnecessary noise — after all, it’s harder to make and execute decisions when there are 12 opinions to listen to. A good practice is to aim for no more than 3 to 5 founding board members at the beginning. You can always add more as your organization grows.
3. Hold every board member fiscally responsible for the success of the organization
An important bottom line that nonprofit professionals often forget is that your board is fiscally responsible for the organization. The idea that funding is just the executive director/founder’s responsibility is a myth. With that said, the onus is on these leaders to instill this attitude in their boards, and train them to act as good stewards and fundraisers for the organization.
At the end of the day, everyone on your board should have an active responsibility to tap their network and bring in new financial supporters. Your fiscal board should be fiscally responsible for your organization — so if they’re not holding up their duties, you might need a new board.
4. Try using committees to increase the ability of your nonprofit to execute
So you’ve thought carefully about your board’s makeup and responsibilities, and you’ve assembled a strong team of fundraisers and advocates. Your friends and family can still have a place in your work, even if it’s not at the board level.
If you have passionate, motivated personal contacts who want to get involved, how about forming some committees?
Committees are a highly effective, often-underutilized way to get people involved in your cause. If you’re hosting a big event, for instance, you may form committees to help you execute it. You can have a committee for marketing the event, a committee for handling decorations and food, one for recruiting participants, and so on. They don’t need to be at every board meeting, but you can use tools like Asana or Google Keep to delineate tasks, schedule check-ins, and keep track of logistics leading up to the big day (And as a bonus, each committee member has their own network of friends, family and colleagues to help spread the word.)
5. Make sure that your nonprofit’s website is mobile responsive
With a 50% increase in mobile visits to nonprofit websites in 20185, it’s more important than ever to make sure that visitors can access your website or make a donation no matter what device they’re using. “Mobile responsive” just means that your website is formatted so that all content and features show up correctly on a phone or tablet as well as a desktop browser.
Most contemporary website creators like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace have a button to “preview” how the site looks on different devices before you publish it. It seems like a simple trick, but in truth, it’s an important point that not everyone thinks about when they’re building a website on a laptop (and it can really help increase your conversion rates.4)