When Small Nonprofits Act Grown-Up
My weekend was bookended by two events by small nonprofit organizations. In both cases, I left feeling proud of my fundraising colleagues. Their organizations—both worthy of support—were well presented and gave the impression that they were top quality. It was good to be part of their success stories.
Disclaimer: I have no studies I can point to that prove what I am about to say. This is my opinion based on experience. However, I feel it is worth sharing for you to consider in your own work as a fundraiser.
Each organization presented itself as highly professional and successful. There was no whining or apologizing. Yes, the need was clearly articulated, but the impression I received was that in both cases, I could invest in a winner. I wasn’t being asked to keep something on life support; I was being invited to join them as they did even more good work.
Neither organization is the biggest provider in its niche. But I left with no doubt that they were, if not the best, among the best. I felt proud to be a donor, and I wanted to do even more.
I have noticed that it is not uncommon for some nonprofit organizations to act like a troubled youth. Rules are broken not because someone has thought through a better idea, but simply because it is easier to do it their own way. “Take it or leave it” is a too frequent (and often unspoken) response to donors—“We can’t change; they will have to change for us.” Criticism is considered “uninformed” and often ignored.
On the other hand, many small nonprofits are growing because they act like responsible grown-ups—and responsible grown-ups looking to invest their hard-earned funds in a nonprofit organization feel confident in doing so with them. Yes, there are other reasons for their success, but when it comes to fundraising, here’s what I think sets them apart:
There is no doubt that the voices of the organization believe in the organization. There is a passion that can’t be scripted; the expressed pride in the organization is genuine. It doesn’t feel like someone is just doing a job. Instead, there is a sharing of something that is truly believed in with those of us attending an event or reading material.
They take advantage of what they have instead of apologizing for what they don’t have. Both events built on the strengths of the nonprofit organizations. Neither was a carbon copy of any other event because it wasn’t about following the crowd; it was about showcasing strengths.
They say "thank you" often and sincerely. I have received thoughtful thank you notes from both organizations—for gifts, of course, but also for my overall support. I feel good about helping them because they make me feel good. Nothing seems too small to be appreciated.
Author C. S. Lewis wrote, “We are what we believe we are.” That applies to nonprofit organizations, too, I think. Instead of apologizing, they celebrate their strengths. They wake up in the morning, pull on their “big boy pants” and show the world that being the best doesn’t necessarily mean being the biggest.
I celebrate small nonprofit organizations. Sure, publications seldom publish lists of small nonprofits that are thinking big. (Maybe they should.) But here’s your challenge for today, fellow fundraiser: Whatever you’re thinking—think bigger! You may not achieve everything, but you’ll achieve more than if you set the bar so low anyone can get over it.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.