Forget Big Organization Envy: You Are Never Too Small to Make a Difference
If you work for a small nonprofit, you quite likely spend a portion of your week frustrated. You have great ideas, but they are often stymied by (1) a lack of budget, (2) a lack of time or (3) a lack of staff to put them into action.
I confess I used to suffer from Big Organization Envy (BOE). I saw the great mailings they did. I saw the cool features on their websites. I read about the awards they won. Of course, all this envy was percolating in the evenings and on weekends, since that was the only time I had to read publications and look at examples of others’ work. My day was too full just trying to keep my head above water with the fundraising I managed to accomplish.
With so many nonprofits competing for the same $2,030, the average American household gave to charity in 2014, according to Giving USA, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too small to make a difference. This is an especially common malady late at night when your brain won’t shut off long enough for you to catch a few hours of sleep. But many small nonprofit organizations are making a difference–perhaps not on the scale of the huge organizations we read about in leading publications, but a difference that does matter.
For those of you struggling with BOE, I offer these suggestions to help you lead your organization’s fundraising efforts so you continue to make a difference where you serve.
Create a business plan. According to Tim Berry from Bplans, "If you’ve ever jotted down a business idea on a napkin with a few tasks you need to accomplish, you’ve written a business plan, or at least the very basic components of one. At its heart, a business plan is just a plan for how your business is going to work, and how you’re going to make it succeed.”
Note that he says “tasks you need to accomplish.” It’s easy to write down everything you want to accomplish or think you have to accomplish and then give up before you’ve even begun because you’re basically created a plan for failure. Instead of focusing on everything you think you have to do, focus on what you know you can do and then add in a few stretch tasks. In fundraising, it’s far better to accomplish fewer things well than start many things and never get most of them off the ground.
Let me give you a few examples: It’s better to call and thank one donor a day than plan to call 50 a week and end up calling none. It’s better to get one e-appeal out each month (and especially at year-end) than have a strategy for sending out weekly e-appeals and e-news—and “fall off the wagon” by the end of February. It’s better to keep your website up to date than plan a major redesign for six months while your home page still is announcing the upcoming gala that actually took place three months ago.
Do you have a roadmap for fundraising success in 2016? If not, take an hour and write a high-level, one-page plan that includes the things you absolutely must do. And then focus on doing those things well.
Act grown up. Being small is not an excuse for being sloppy. If you are going to do an event, make it one that is memorable for the right things. When you send out an e-appeal, the readability is more important that the bells and whistles. (Nothing against bells and whistles, but when the design looks great in a PDF but doesn’t translate to a readable email on a variety of email servers, you risk losing your readers.) Make sure everything you provide to your donors reflects an organization that is paying attention to the details; that tells donors and prospects that you’re probably paying attention to how you invest their gifts, too. Sloppy work erodes confidence, and a lack of confidence erodes giving.
Take advantage of the benefits of being small. I get a lot of fundraising mail and email. The mail is often colorful, oversized and filled with "freemiums," and the email has all the latest electronic features. But since I am not a major donor at most organizations, it’s seldom truly personal. When you are small, you may not be able to afford massive envelopes and exotic "freemiums," but you can send me a letter or an email that truly connects. If I call your organization, you can take a minute or two more to increase the possibility that my satisfaction will increase as a result of the call. You can send a thank you that truly thanks me for my donation.
Recent research by Adrian Sargeant, professor and director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, and Roger Lawson, founder of About Loyalty, found that the greatest predictors of donor loyalty are commitment, satisfaction and trust. Being small does not preclude paying attention to these three drivers; in fact, it makes it all the more important that you do everything possible to increase them because every donor you have is precious. So take advantage of the fact that you have less bureaucracy (hopefully) to cut through to really connect with your donors, and make sure that every contact you do have is about the donor and focused on responding to his or her needs.
One of my clients recently put together a short video highlighting its accomplishments in 2015. (Note: I was not involved in developing this, so this is not a self-serving endorsement.) This shows what a small nonprofit can do to show impact to its donors. It probably never will win an award, or get included in a list of top nonprofit videos, but it says, “We are doing what we said we would do with your donation.” And this old dog knows that when a donor feels like his or her donation really did what the organization said it will do, the donor is more likely to give again—regardless of how big or small that organization is. So let’s not waste any more time on BOE. Instead celebrate what is being accomplished because you are a passionate fundraiser who knows that your organization is never too small to make a difference.