4 Keys to Creating a Resilient Nonprofit
In the past month, nonprofits have fast-tracked efforts to digitize their operations to support working from home, while rethinking how each department can fill the immediate gaps of mission delivery, revenue and the needs of their people.
Outside of immediate stop gap measures, our collective experience has forced nonprofits to think deeply about resiliency... the kind that allows you to not only survive, but thrive, during a challenge. Now is the time for every person in every department to reconsider what is needed to become a resilient nonprofit.
In working with the social good sector for over 20 years (including hundreds of organizations), I've found the following areas to be key focus areas on developing a strategy for success in times of major challenge.
Staff: As your organization adapts to new remote working conditions, your internal teams must remain connected through technology and a supportive culture. In addition to core collaboration tools, like video conferencing and messaging, successful organizations are those who quickly execute on the concept of a digitally connected office. Ask yourself: As your organization’s staff adapts to new remote working conditions, how do your teams remain connected? Can your core business processes survive when your staff can no longer meet face-to-face? What does your organization need to do to adapt to a remote style of business?
Donors: How are you communicating with those most loyal to you? How are you keeping them aware of what your organization is doing to meet these new challenges? And how do you continue fundraising respectfully? To help navigate these vital questions, here is a fundraising resource hub including weekly webinars, blogs and guides.
Beneficiaries: One of the biggest changes facing many nonprofits is the direct impact on those you serve. As an example, imagine the beneficiary experience for human services organizations and food banks. Creative solutions are emerging daily of how organizations are reimagining remote or direct support of these constituencies. Jeanette Russell is collecting ingenious examples of how nonprofits are responding to changing mission delivery conditions in her weekly resilient round-up blog.
Revenue diversification: In today’s economic environment, the only thing you can be certain of is uncertainty. Organizations which depend on a single primary source of income (e.g. fees, grants, major gifts, events) are at high risk of revenue loss. Short-term and long-term revenue health must be balanced by expanding the number of potential revenue streams and incorporating “quick response” campaigns that deliver rapid returns, such as peer-to-peer and virtual event strategies.
Revenue predictability: Incorporating more predictable revenue streams, like recurring giving, into your organization’s portfolio allows for more confidence in your monthly and quarterly income. Increasing focus on predictable channels and giving methods help your organization prepare for sustainability.
Mission and Operations
Expense management: Nonprofit budgets have two levers of control: income and expenses. In a time of budget challenge, organizations must focus on managing internal expenses and minimizing unpredictable external/vendor costs. This requires the ability to 1) monitor current and planned expenses, 2) adapt budgets to changing conditions and 3) evaluation of all external or vendor contracts. As you establish your strategy, make sure that your financial systems give you what you need to support evolving expenses and budget needs, including vendor agreements that support subscription-based costs.
Resilient mission delivery: Mission delivery cannot stop during an emergency. For some, like food banks, the need for service grows exponentially. How can you coordinate program delivery in a remote working environment? Does your current technology support the need to scale? A shift in staffing and technology is likely needed to preserve your organization’s mission focus.
Technology and Data
Resilient technology: In times of major challenge, how is your organization equipped to minimize the risk of system downtime or staff loss? Organizations reliant on “on premise” solutions accessible only from within a single location (e.g. office building) may find themselves unable to function in a distributed, remote working environment. Moving key systems to cloud-based technologies allows for access by any staff regardless of working location.
Automation: Manual processes are common across the nonprofit industry. Whether it’s manually keying data from a paper event registration or responding to a donor email asking for a gift receipt, organizations lose hundreds of hours each year to processes that could be automated. In times of uncertainty, automation of manual processes allows your staff to focus on critical needs rather than data entry and correction. Automation can allow a nonprofit to increase available staff simply by digitizing previously manual activities.
Foundational data: Data is the foundation of all nonprofits. It tells you who your best supporters are, how effectively you’re impacting your mission and what financial resources you have available. Yet, it’s also one of the first areas in which organizations stop investing during challenging times. Data quality and hygiene processes (e.g. address updates, duplicate management) as well as common data append solutions (e.g. wealth, interest, contact data) ensure that your organization’s data is ready for your changing communication and fundraising strategies.
Artificial intelligence: Data-based decision-making is a key tactic for nonprofit leaders. Your background in the sector helps you to understand where and when to invest your staff and resources. Yet, it’s impossible for you and your staff to oversee all decisions. That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. Understanding the correct message to send to the right donor at the perfect time, knowing which of your supporters may be the best fit for a virtual event you are about to launch and identifying which donors are most likely to give a major gift in your time of need are all examples of how AI can drive meaningful decisions without increasing your organization’s need for additional staff.
More than ever, there is a need for organizations to create and execute strategies focused on sustainability in times of uncertainty. A resilient nonprofit is one that stays connected to its people, focuses on securing reliable and predictable revenue streams, is able to optimize expenses and develops contingency plans for mission delivery — all while leveraging technology and data to adapt on demand to address organizational challenges
As a partner focused on the social good sector, Blackbaud is continually investing in resources to help our clients execute on the above strategies. We are here for you and will continue to provide learnings from the sector as our community moves forward during this time of uncertainty.
Linton Myers is a 22-year veteran of the social good industry, having worked on digital, CRM, marketing and analytics technologies in the nonprofit, higher education, association and membership, and healthcare markets. He is a former foundation director, grant writer, database administrator, business analyst and architect.