Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

One of the reasons I love inviting guests to post on this blog is so that they can talk about topics that I probably wouldn’t address myself. And right at the top of that list is budgets! Numbers are something I always struggled with in school (while I excelled in English), so it’s better for both of us that I stick to what I’m good at.

Enter Steve Fredlund. He and I met several months ago in a Facebook Group, and when I saw that one of his areas of focus was budgeting and money management for nonprofits and small businesses, I jumped at the chance to feature his expertise.

I really loved the way Steve talks about “transformational” budgeting in this post, and think it will not only shed some light, but challenge your social impact organization to value money differently in the process.

Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

BUDGET. A 6-letter swear word to many nonprofit leaders and small business owners. It’s about penny-pinching and the restricting of ability to get things done. It’s the mechanism by which a number-crunching, introverted analytic hinders team creativity. Right? 

Yes. Because most of us see it this way, this is precisely what it becomes. Consider how budget discussions and approval are communicated in your organization. For many, it sounds something like, “Well, it’s that exciting time to set the budget again,” or “Sorry, guys and gals, we have to work on the budget,” or “Let’s get the budget stuff done so we can get on to the real stuff we need to talk about.” 

Why You Need to Rethink Budgets

Budget communication both reflects AND creates culture. It gives insight into leadership perspectives on budget, which gives insight into how leaders think about budgeting as a potential tool to move the organization forward. And usually, budget communication is extremely negative or, at minimum, apathetic. But your cash flow is an asset and it is your responsibility to leverage that asset as effectively as possible in support of the overall mission and strategic priorities of your organization. Anything short of that is a suboptimal use of one of your biggest assets, and is a gap in your overall leadership. 

Your finances carry vast amounts of potential energy, just waiting to get released. Your job as a leader is to recognize the full potential energy and release it to maximize achievement of the vision and strategic priorities. I want to encourage you to shift your paradigm about finances—to recognize that great organizations are able to fully release their power and leverage it for success.


3 Budgeting Exercises for Social Impact Organizations

Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise:

  1. Strategy-based budget.  List out all of your major strategies, goals, or initiatives. Then assign each a percentage (totaling 100%) indicating how you WISH all of your available funds were allocated. Do this without regard to your knowledge of the current budget and only consider non-fixed costs. Basically, you are saying, “This is how I wish all of our discretionary spending was allocated.” Then, take this to your finance team and ask them to complete this exercise with the actual spending; have them include a bucket somewhere for the “fixed costs,” and with all remaining expenses, have them allocate out to the same categories you defined. Compare what you find. Eventually, I encourage organizations to create budgets starting first with developing a desired allocation of resources and then building the budget; but for now, this exercise will provide insight into any major disjoints in spending. It will also help you realize how many of your expenses are fixed, to see if there is any way to move spending into discretionary.

  2. Gain outsider perspectives.  An interesting exercise is to give your current budget (or actual spending) to several people unfamiliar with your organization and ask them what they think your vision and priorities based on your budget. You can get tremendous insight from this exercise. This is similar to having new people to come into your building or office and ask what they think your priorities are based on your environment; it creates fascinating discussions.

  3. External research. It’s amazing to me that very few nonprofits and social enterprises have an understanding of how similar organizations are allocating their budgets. I ask, “How does this compare to your competitors?” or “How does this compare to similar nonprofits?” and rarely do they know. Comparing to others can provide great insights, not only for competitive advantage, but to start the conversations about how you could become more effective in your spending.

 There are many more considerations in maximizing your financial investments, and improving the perception of the role of budgeting, but these three are a good start. How you spend your money is more than just a necessary evil. It is as important as the staff you hire, connections you make, and products or services you provide. Every dollar of your revenue is an asset; are you investing it in a way that maximizes your impact or helps you best reach your goals?

Avoid the 5% Rule

When the next budget cycle comes up, consider avoiding the typical process that simply adds 5% to every budget item from last year. This is the central mistake in budgeting for impact; to start with what has been done in the past and making minor tweaks. Using the prior budget to determine the next budget is akin to starting with current policies and procedures to set next year’s strategies.

If you want a transformational budget, then realize that the budget is an “output” and not an “input.”  The budget process starts with what you are ultimately trying to do (your vision, mission, or purpose). From there, you determine your key focus areas for the next one to three years, which leads to your key strategies and, ultimately, to the execution of those strategies. It is from these decisions that the transformational budget emerges. 

Imagine running a nonprofit helping to alleviate the issue of clean water in which 20% of last year’s budget supported efforts in Rwanda and 10% supported Nepal. There are some significant political and world relief changes resulting in far less need for the organization to continue working in Rwanda. Strategically, the organization decides it needs to move staff and facilities to Nepal, but the budget setting is based on last year and the funding to both Rwanda and Nepal is increased slightly, creating a huge disjoint in strategy and funding.

This may be a ridiculous example that would not actually happen in practice, but it’s only ridiculous because of the dramatic nature of the shift. How many smaller shifts are happening every year without the budget reallocation to support it? Many cause-focused organizations know the areas they need to move focus toward, but most use a “last year plus” method for budgeting. The end result will always be a disjoint between impact and financial support.

As a social impact organization, take time to celebrate every dollar coming in. These funds are more than just “money;” they represent the opportunity to have impact. But the ball is now in your court. What are you going to do with that opportunity? The more impact you can have, the more opportunity you will attract; and conversely, the poorer you manage your opportunity, the less opportunity you will have. 


Get Excited About Budgeting

Get excited about strategizing how those funds can be used to maximize impact or profitability. Have leadership discussions that start first with your vision, mission, priorities, and strategies, considering how to optimize movement toward their achievement using your finances. Think less about budget constraints and think more about budget opportunities.

When you have a budget that is lined up with your overall strategies, it generates creativity among each budget manager to truly optimize those funds to carry out their strategies. Further, having a budget aligned with strategies creates peace of mind for leadership (and all stakeholders), knowing that all assets are working together to carry out the desired impact of the organization.

Start seeing budget and finances differently, and you will be on your way to leveraging it most effectively—to maximizing your impact; to achieving your vision.

If I can be of any assistance, feel free to give me a shout at steve@stevefredlund.com or 651.587.5435. You can find out more about me at stevefredlund.com. 


Steve Fredlund

Steve Fredlund, FSA, MBA, SWP has 30 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies in primarily financial and analytical roles, with another 10 years in nonprofit roles including staff, board, founder, executive, and volunteer. He currently does independent consulting, coaching, and speaking focusing on small businesses and nonprofits. Steve helps individuals and organizations clearly define what success means to them, and then figure out how to get there. More information is available at stevefredlund.com.

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Here are three exercises to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Today’s inspiration comes from one of our newest interns here at Signify, Kirsten King. When she approached me about writing a blog post on this topic, I thought it was a terrific idea. I’m a big fan of not only setting goals, but regularly evaluating them.

And one of the biggest hurdles in goal-setting isn’t identifying them, but prioritizing them. After all, you only have so much time, energy, and resources at your disposal. So, you definitely want to ensure that your nonprofit or social enterprise is focused on the right targets.

The exercise Kirsten outlines below is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s also relatively simple. But the beauty is that it will give you a big picture look at your organization, and help you decide which direction to run in. Give it a try, and see your goals come to life.

The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Happy (belated) New Year!

So, you’ve established some business goals for this year, and you’re all set to tackle them. You will complete your 2019 To Do List, but it may seem a bit overwhelming right now. Often, you may be wondering where to start, how to prioritize, or where you fit in amongst your competitors and even your donors or customers. If this sounds familiar, then you may need to create or restructure your SWOT analysis.

Creating a current SWOT analysis can help pinpoint what your organization lacks, as well as what it offers. Without this assessment, you may quickly fall behind or feel left out. This could happen if you don’t know what trends are up-and-coming, what other organizations in your field are doing, the growth opportunities that are available, or you may be unable to predict what challenges are yet to come. However, knowing each of these items can give you a distinctive edge, and guide you toward both short- and long-term success.

SWOT Analysis… What’s that?

Now, if you’re wondering, “What’s a SWOT analysis?!”, don’t worry, we’ll jump right into that.  

First, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a genius marketing strategy—even if you’re new to marketing—because it identifies a nonprofit or social enterprises’s internal strengths and weaknesses, while also looking into the opportunities and threats that are occurring outside of the organization. (These factors you have no control over, but you may be able to use them to your advantage 😉. )

Why is a SWOT Analysis Important?

Performing a SWOT analysis can help you determine what new strategies should be implemented and what problems need to be resolved. You don’t want to waste time developing and planning a new strategy, if it doesn’t fit with the current or upcoming trends.

Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you. Here’s a great video, using Starbucks as an example, if you would like to see a SWOT analysis in action.

Since business, trends, marketing, technology, and even the way you interact with your donors or customers are constantly changing, a SWOT analysis should be performed at least once or twice a year to ensure you are on the right track, or outline any changes that should be made. These can be performed solo, or with a team, board members, or key stakeholders.


Completing Your SWOT Analysis

Okay, let’s build your SWOT analysis! We’ve even created a free template to help you out.

One thing you’ll notice immediately is the simplicity of the layout. Once you dig into the items below, you may be tempted to include a lot of details and notes. But, at its heart, a SWOT analysis is just meant to give you a quick overview. Think of it as your organization at a glance, and use it to help guide you in the right direction.

Strengths are determined by the positive assets that your social impact organization owns. They may be tangible or intangible resources. Since you have control over these assets, strengths can help your organization stand out.

Strengths include:

  • Unique mission or model

  • Land

  • Location

  • Equipment

  • Copyrights/trademarks

  • Employees/volunteers

  • Funding

  • Marketing

  • Customer service

  • Relationships

Weaknesses can be defined as the characteristics of your organization that are unfavorable or may hurt you in some way. These downfalls could potentially hinder your success in both the short- and long-term. Weaknesses may be easily improved with a little more time, effort, and sometimes money.

Weaknesses include:

  • Outdated technology

  • Slow or poor communication (internal and/or external)

  • Poor signage

  • Little to no online presence

  • Unreliable cash flow

  • Lack of systems and processes

  • Cost

  • Low reputation

  • Small team with big workload

  • Low innovation

Opportunities are the external factors that can help your nonprofit or social enterprise thrive. Options here may be one-time or ongoing opportunities, so it’s especially important to note anything with fixed deadlines or limited availability that need to stay top of mind.

Opportunities include:

  • Partnerships and sponsorships

  • Participating in a current or upcoming trend (or event)

  • Government programs

  • Niche target market

  • Increased interest in your cause

  • New technologies

  • Growing population

  • Few competitors

  • New systems or processes

  • High demand

Threats are external factors that you cannot control. These negatives require quick thinking to develop new strategies.

Threats include:

  • Changes in government policies or funding

  • Uncertain economic factors

  • Aggressive competition

  • Unexpected weather

  • Rising costs

  • Increase in competition

  • Change in population

  • Negative media coverage

  • Loss of large donor, partner, or sponsor

  • Taxation

Time to Strategize!

You can start your SWOT analysis by focusing on internal strengths and weaknesses. This should be easier since you know the ins and outs of your organization.

Afterward, you can focus on external factors like your opportunities and threats. This may call for a bit of research and contemplation. But once your SWOT analysis is complete, you should have a better idea on what strategies to prioritize, implement, or refresh.

If done correctly, you’ll be able to use this analysis to create fresh, new ideas for your nonprofit or social enterprise. And remember, the assessment can always be adjusted to meet the current trends and challenges you may face.

Now, with all of this new information, how will you structure your business goals for the year ahead? Have you determined your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats yet? If not, it’s time to brainstorm new strategies that will help you develop or maintain that sustainable advantage!


Kirsten M King Marketing

Hi! I’m Kirsten M. King, and I absolutely love anything dealing with marketing, from advertising to data and everything in-between. I also love to learn and expand my knowledge on current trends and issues.

I’m currently a senior Marketing Major at Georgia State University. And I hope to take my skills and use them towards a career in project management.

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PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Make Time for Marketing

One of the common complaints I hear from clients is that they have trouble making time for marketing. And I totally get it.

Even as a marketer myself, there are weeks when it’s a struggle for me. We are all busy people, and especially when marketing isn’t a skill you already have, it can be hard to move from good intention to action.

No matter what kind of social impact organization you lead or serve at, I know there are a lot of demands on you. A lot of people need your time. A lot of tasks need your attention. A lot of fires need putting out.

But I’d encourage you to make time for marketing. Why? Well, first of all, you’re already doing it in some capacity. If you have any sort of process for communicating with the people who buy from you or donate to you (like social media, email, and events), you’re a marketer. So, you might as well strive for making it more effective.

Second, as you can see from the statement above, marketing is non-negotiable. Your nonprofit or social enterprise may be sitting pretty right now, but that may not always be the case. So, strengthening your marketing muscle is worth the investment. And, just like getting in shape, you only get stronger with time and practice.

Third, and building what we’ve already talked about, if making time for marketing isn’t a regular practice, you’ll never find extra time for it. Like most everything else, something you don’t deem as a current priority will never beat out “more important” tasks. Unless there’s a crisis. So, do yourself a favor and start easing into the habit now, before you’re forced to find the time in a state of panic.

I’ve got good news, though. There are any number of ways to fit marketing into your busy schedule. Today, I’ll tell you about four of my favorites. I’ll even give you a few tools to help maximize your time, as well as a suggested “bare bones” marketing strategy.

How to Make Time for Marketing

Fitting Marketing Into Your Busy Schedule

One simple Google search will probably give you numerous other tools and ideas for tackling marketing on a weekly or monthly basis, but these are my favorites. I don’t take credit for any of them, and I’ve tried all of them. I also recommend them all on a regular basis because I think each one has a lot of value.

1) Planning Your Week in 15 Minutes - Podcast episode + Workbook

I know it sounds too good to be true, but Steph Crowder has come up with a really great process for planning her weeks. Like a lot of us, she has a schedule that fluctuates constantly, so her system accounts for that. it was a technique she developed because she couldn’t find a planner that fit her needs.

Steph’s method is a variation of the popular “rocks, pebbles, sand” illustration. You look at the immovable “rocks” in your schedule like meetings and appointments, add in the “pebbles” which are important tasks that need to get done, and then finally fill up with “sand” which are less important tasks that should get done but take up time, yet remain flexible. Hint: the “pebbles” are where the magic happens. Click the link to hear her explain the process on her podcast. It’s worth a listen whether you decide this is the right route for you or not.

One of my good friends loves this system, and uses it regularly. The other great thing about it is that you only need a sheet of notebook paper. So, you can grab one of those beautiful $70 planners if you want, but it’s totally up to you!

2) Learn Time Blocking

There are a lot of ways to utilize time blocking, which is one of the reasons I like it. You can block minutes, hours, or even days. But the point of it is to set aside a chunk of time for a specific task—and nothing else.

For example, I typically practice “Marketing Mondays” and “Follow-Up Fridays.” On Mondays, I generally write blog posts, schedule social media, create additional content, and things like that. Fridays are for wrapping up anything I need to get done for Signify before the week ends. This leaves Tuesday through Thursday for meetings and client work.

Structuring my week this way ensures I’m working on my business, not just working in it. I can make progress on moving my own mission forward outside of the deliverables I need to create for clients.

For me, it’s just easiest to have these days set aside rather than rotating them each week. That’s why this method ended up working better for me than Steph’s process. It was one less decision to make, and helped me protect my time better.

You can read more about creating themes for your days and weeks in my guest post for Orange. (I love a good theme!)

However, one of my clients sets aside 10:00 a.m. to noon each day for her marketing and meetings. Another generally works from home, so he comes to the office for focused time to work on marketing and communications. His staff knows that when he’s in his office with the door closed, he needs quiet time to get these things done.

Another extremely popular take on this is the Pomodoro Technique. Not to be confused with the sauce, this method has you work in 25-minute chunks. It’s a very hyper-focused session that can be easily replicated throughout the day. (Short attention span? This may be your best bet.)

If this is a method you’d like to test, I also recommend reading my friend Carey Nieuwhof’s post on creating an energy management list. It’s a terrific reminder to keep in mind when you personally work best, and use that to your advantage.

And if you want to become a super time blocker, look no further than Michael Hyatt. He talks a little about his “ideal week” process in this post, among other places, but he’s one of those people who treats his week like a budget, accounting for every hour. Frankly, it was just too strict for me—but perhaps that’s also part of what accounts for the discrepancy in our incomes. ;)

3) Eat the Frog

Made popular by Brian Tracy, “eat the frog” refers to a quote by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Tracy breaks it down here, but the gist is to do the thing you don’t want to do first thing so that it’s done and over with. Then you can move on with your day.

If you have a lot of resistance to marketing, this may be a good option for you. You can remove some of the anticipation and anxiety by sheer will.

Another option, of course, is to use this rule for your biggest and/or most important marketing tasks. Once you’ve knocked them out early on, you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment no matter what happens during the rest of the day.

4) Get an Accountability Partner

if you’ve been around me or this blog for a while, you already know that I’m a huge fan of having an accountability partner or group of people you stay accountable to, like a mastermind. These people have been so helpful for me, and I think everyone could benefit from this support system.

I talk extensively about accountability partners and masterminds here, but for the purposes of helping you with your marketing, the short answer is that someone else will ask you if you got it done. You might be much less likely to skip it or move it to the back burner if you know someone’s going to be checking up on you.

Which Method is Right?

Trick question! The right answer is the one that works for you. Chose one of these options and stick to it, or try them all on and see what fits best. I most often use #2 and #3 myself, but that doesn’t mean those are the best choice for you.

Tools for Managing Your Time

Here are a few tools that save me some extra time each week, allowing for important tasks like marketing:

  • Acuity Scheduling: How many of us spend too much time scheduling appointments? Answer: almost all of us. Acuity lets me send someone a link to schedule when it’s convenient for them, without all the back-and-forth. (Calendly is another option.)

  • RescueTime: If you are unsure where your time goes each week, this software will track it for you and send you a weekly report.

  • Canva: I love Canva because it allows me to quickly create graphics for my website, blog, and social media. Once you have a template in place, it takes little time to swap out text and photos.

  • Asana: I keep track of all my tasks, as well as assign tasks to my interns using Asana. It even allows you to set up reoccurring tasks, attach files, and make notes and comments.

  • Smarterqueue: Social media should, of course, be social. But with limited time on my hands, I use this incredible tool to schedule and recycle content on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. (I compared 13 different software options here.)


Bare Bones Marketing

Note that this is bare bones marketing, not ideal marketing. But if you just need to find a way to make marketing a part of your regular routine, then here are my suggestions for incorporating it into your week. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible, narrowing it to the most important tasks you can knock out in one to two hours per week.

Anything you can do on top of it is highly recommended, but this is a good place to start. These are in no particular order, except for #5, so you can move them around to fit your schedule or preferences.

And guess what? This outline also fits nicely with any of the techniques above!

  • Week 1: Email your tribe - Emailing people is much more effective than social media, so be sure to talk to your audience regularly.

  • Week 2: Meet with a VIP - This could include a large donor or customer that you’re wooing, a key stakeholder already involved in your mission, or a potential sponsor or partner. Don’t wait for these appointments; seek them out.

  • Week 3: Be social - Pop into Facebook groups, post on social media, email people who have fallen off the radar, attend an event, and look for other ways to interact with peers and protentials.

  • Week 4: Create content - If you only have an hour or two at your disposal, then writing a blog post may not be possible, unless it’s a short one. But other doable options in that time frame might include a Facebook Live, “mini blog” on Instagram or Facebook, or time set aside to work on a larger content piece or campaign. You could also include being interviewed for an article or on a podcast here. I’m including this item because it’ll give you new things to talk about and promote on a continual basis to your donors, customers, partners, and fans.

  • Week 5: Your choice - Obviously, not every month has five weeks. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capitalize on it when you get the chance! Use this week to go the extra mile on one of the above items. Alternatively, this could be an hour you set aside to regularly reflect on how your marketing has gone, and what should improve, continue or change. But I’m a big fan of reflecting more than once a year!



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

There are any number of ways to fit marketing into your busy schedule. Today, I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites. I’ll even give you a few tools to help maximize your time, as well as a suggested “bare bones” marketing strategy.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Are You Setting Your Development Department Up to Fail?

There is a bit of a double-standard in the nonprofit community that I often see. On one hand, “marketing” is usually treated like it’s a dirty word. It equates to greedy, and not worthy of their cause. A nonprofit is a nonprofit because it doesn’t have to do any marketing, right?

On the other hand, there usually comes a point when nonprofit leaders realize, for better or for worse, that they do need to take a second look at this whole marketing thing, and it becomes more important—or even a necessary evil.

And that’s when it happens. All of these sudden, the poor development staff who have been told to look at marketing one way, suddenly find themselves in charge of it. No training, no resources, just figure it out and start doing it.

This needs to change. Why? If you don’t change your mindset, as well as provide budget and resources for your fundraising staff, you’re setting them up to fail.

Are You Setting Your Development Department Up to Fail?

Remind Me, What’s Marketing Again?

As I stated on this blog almost two years ago, marketing is simply the process that creates a relationship between creator and consumer. It includes the creation, promotion, selling, and distribution of "your thing," whatever that may be. (ex: product, service, ministry, outreach, etc.)

Obviously, this gets slightly more complex with social impact organizations because you have two audiences, the people who support your work and the people who benefit from your work. For the purposes of this post, we’ll just refer to those who make your work possible. If you’re a nonprofit who is also a social enterprise, the term “customer” may still apply. If you’re a more traditional nonprofit, substitute “donor.”

Essentially, marketing is the way people find out about your mission (ex: word-of-mouth, email, social media, website, etc). That’s not so gross, right?

You already know those things have to happen, or are happening right now, so guess what? You’re a marketer. It’s kinda like being a poet when you didn’t even know it. ;)

Now, if we agree on those things, let’s talk about where the breakdown occurs.

Why Development and Marketing Are Two, Different Areas

“Marketing” and “development” aren’t the same words for good reason. Yes, the absolutely have some overlap, but they often require a different mindset and skill set. That’s where nonprofits can easily run into trouble.

According to Wikipedia, a site which I couldn’t live without, “The role of a development director is to develop and implement a strategic plan to raise vital funds for their organization in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner.” Those last two phrases probably made you cringe, roll your eyes, or nod along—perhaps all three. #nopressure

But, if you’re tracking with me, you probably see that, in reality, marketing and development are actually two sides of the same coin. That’s good news! Both roles have the same result: Bring in money for the organization. However, the way that happens can look different.

The problem here is that, once a nonprofit decides marketing is a curiosity or an even an essential part of growth, they might expect their development person or team to either know how to do it or figure out it out for themselves. It’s like being thrown in the deep end of a pool with no life vest. And, worse still, when the marketing “fails,” there may be a determination that marketing is bad, marketing doesn’t work, or this person can’t do their job.

No, no, no. That’s where I want you to help me change things. And together, we can.

From conversations with friends, clients, and my interns, it still seems that you can graduate with a degree in nonprofit management, or something similar, and receive LITTLE TO NO marketing training. Face palm. I think this is a complete injustice and flaw in the education system, if this is true.

Do you know why? Innovation and longevity.

Nonprofits have the benefit of relying on donations and grants, if they want to. That’s a critical distinction for sure. BUT, they don’t have to rely solely on donations and grants. That’s where good marketing comes in.

By being able to figure out the marketing piece of your organization, you open up more opportunities. You can utilize the aspects of the business world, and apply them to your cause. I think this is why the social enterprise model is so exciting. It’s the perfect intersection of commerce and cause.

And, whether you choose to take the social enterprise path or not, you can still use marketing to your advantage. Many nonprofits to not have a solid content strategy, for example. They have amazing stories to tell but don’t share them well. They only communicate with donors when they need something. They mean to post on social media, send an email, set a meeting, but, but, but….

There are millions of nonprofits in the world, all competing for money and resources. And, all things being equal, I think marketing separates one from the pack. So, remove celebrity spokespeople, millionaire donors, and some of those other wish list items, and marketing is what great nonprofits do well. We’ve talked about Charity:Water on this blog before, and with good reason. Outside of a large personal network, a marketing ad campaign helped put them on the map.

Thinking through the lens of marketing creates a shift. Communication goes from nice-to-do to need-to-do, and donors take notice. One-time donors can become repeat donors. Tribes increase. Awareness grows. More money can be brought in to help programs and services increase. MORE GOOD CAN BE DONE! Isn’t that worth embracing marketing? I think so.

Let’s talk about how.

DIY Marketing

I’m not naive enough to think that nonprofit leaders will read this post, and immediately begin advertising for a marketing staffer. I know that’s not always an option. In fact, most of my clients only have one or two people dedicated to fundraising. And, for some, the nonprofit leader is also a solopreneur, handling development (and everything else) as well. It takes time and money to grow and scale, but with help, you can get there.

The first step is to actually give your development person a marketing budget. Whether this is $5 or $5,000, it’s important that it exists. This is especially essential if your development staff has no marketing knowledge or experience. You can’t expect them to know what the rest of us took years to learn.

So, DIY resources could include books, blogs (like this one!), courses, events, and the like. It’s a place where they can get the information they need to do their job better. It might even be someone like a mentor.

Also, give them time on your dime to learn. Don’t expect that they learn how to be a great marketer in their evenings or on the weekend.

I would even take this one step further and actually help them find good resources. Take an hour or so of your time to search or ask for recommendations, and then pass them along. Be proactive in making sure they have a quality marketing education, and show them that you’re there to support them.

You work for a cause, after all, so demonstrate that you care and are committed to seeing them succeed. And, if you’re the boss, plan for a bigger marketing budget next year.

Hybrid Marketing

Let’s say you’ve got more than a few bucks in your marketing budget, and you’re willing to bring in some help. Great! You’re in a very good place.

Additional help could look like a one-time, ongoing, or once-in-a-while contractor, coach, or consultant, for example. Evaluate not just your budget, but the return on investment from a person who fits this need. Yes, it could be a sticker shock if you aren’t used to working with these folks, but how will they pay off in the long run? Their expertise may just take your organization or employee to the next level. Plus, you only have so much time on your hands. What if someone else can do a better job faster?

This is obviously where people like me fit in. I started my business to fill a need that I commonly saw as a previous employee of several nonprofits, as well as a long-time volunteer. I was regularly asked marketing and communications questions by friends and staff of nonprofits and social enterprises. They had questions, and I was happy to answer. So, when I was leaving my old job, I asked if the would be willing to pay me for project work so that I could help them grow. Those people, including the organization that I was a long-time volunteer with, all became my first clients. And many of them have become repeat clients.

For you, it might be graphic design help to make your marketing look sharp. It could be a coaching program that teaches your development staff how to also be marketers. It could be a social media manager who takes that responsibility off their plate.

One of the fun things that I love about being a consultant, and why I hire them myself, is that they see everything with fresh eyes. You are in the day-to-day of your work, and sometimes, all it takes is an outside perspective and few tweaks to get you on a better track.

If you’ve got a little more money to work with, give this avenue a shot. If you’re nervous, start with a small project. See how you can make this approach work for you.

Hire a Marketing Person

So, obviously, it takes more of a significant amount of money and commitment to hire a part-time or full-time marketing person. But if you’re determine to make marketing work for your nonprofit, this might be the right choice for you.

If you don’t have it already, I’d encourage you to write out the job description for your development director or staff. Is it more than they can handle? Does it include items they’ve never been trained for, and no resources to equip them? This is often the case. If it is, something needs to change.

I know you don’t intentionally want to set up your development department to fail. But I wouldn’t be addressing it on this blog if this weren’t a common issue. What can you do differently?

Leaders, I cannot tell you how often I see comments about this stuff in Facebook Groups and hear about it in conversations. This kind of thing puts so much pressure and burden on your employees, and will lead to burnout and frustration, which won’t serve you, your organization, or your cause well.

It’s a new year, so it’s a great time to make the shift. Set your development staff up to succeed. And make marketing an intentional part of your communication process. I don’t think you’ll regret it.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

“Marketing” and “development” aren’t the same words for good reason. Yes, the absolutely have some overlap, but they often require a different mindset and skill set. That’s where nonprofits can easily run into trouble.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Communicate with Year-End Donors in the New Year

Whew—you made it! It was a crazy, busy season, but you crossed the threshold into the New Year. Congratulations!

So, once you’ve wrapped up your year-end giving, you can sit back and relax come January, right? Welllll, not quite. I realize you could probably already use a vacation, but one of your best bets for building momentum and donor retention in the first quarter is to build on your efforts in the last one.

And while I sincerely hope that your nonprofit reached or surpassed your end of year giving goals, these strategies can be implemented even if you didn’t. Either way, they’ll set you up for better months ahead.

How to Communicate with Year-End Donors in the New Year

Make Good on Your Promises

First of all, it’s incredibly important to make good on any promises from last year. Leftovers tend to start stinking, am I right?

This could include reports, updates, or any other documentation that you owe your donor base. For example, I’ve seen annual gala sponsorship levels that include quarterly reports to major sponsors and donors. If you’ve got something like that on your plate, take action now before another, “more important” task comes along.

And if you didn’t release an annual report as part of your year-end fundraising campaign, this can be another great tool to start the New Year. Show off the impact your work is having, while highlighting opportunities for growth and engagement.

Keeping and fulfilling any promises you made to donors, sponsors, and partners is just one more way you can prove that you’re trustworthy, responsible, and deserving of their time and investment.

(Tip: If at all possible, never let them have to ask you for this information. That looks bad. Do everything you can to put the information or resources in their hands first. If there’s going to be a delay, communicate that so they don’t have to wonder or, worse, think you forgot.)

Send Those Shout Out’s, High Five’s, and Horray’s

Don’t forget to celebrate those victories! As someone who can easily dismiss an achievement, especially a small one, and move on to the next thing, I encourage you to take the win every time.

Better yet—share it with your fan base! If you met your fundraising goal and are now able to provide more products and/or services to those who benefit from your work, let everyone know! Send out an email blast, post it on social media, host a Facebook Live, release carrier pigeons, shout it from the rooftops, or do whatever you need to do to let your fans and followers know they played a part in getting you there.

This is your chance to say, “We did it!” And when you tell them exactly how those funds will be used, you not only instill a sense of pride in your contributors, but you’ll subconsciously encourage them to give again!

But let’s say you didn’t meet you goals. What then? Well, don’t take that as your cue to forego any updates. You still need to do that, but you’ll obviously need to tailor the message. You can send out a thank you, and tell people what’s on the horizon. Remind them of what’s at stake, and how you plan on serving people this year. Get them excited for the future, and state how they can be a part of your incredible work.

Keeping your fans in the loop is one sure-fire step toward donor retention. When people don’t know how their money is used, don’t know who is being served, and don’t know what’s going on, they are far more likely to take their hard-earned money to someone who can check those boxes for them. So, stay in touch!

(Tip: If you’ve been lax on your marketing and communication in the past, use these kinds of updates to get you back on track in the New Year. Update, rinse, and repeat. Make it a habit you’ll keep going forward. And if you’re not sure what to send them, I’ve got a few ideas.)

Pencil In Your VIPs

Always strike while the iron is hot, as they say, but particularly when it comes to your largest contributors. Take a look back at the previous year (or years), and identify who gave the most, either in dollars or in-kind. Then, get these people on your calendar.

If they’re local, take them to coffee or lunch. If they’re not, opt for a phone call, or even better, a video chat where you can look them in the eye. But make these interactions personal on some level, and don’t just lump them in to a mass email.

Use the opportunities to say thank you, and let them know what’s been going on, especially if it’s been a while. Ask for their input, or get them involved in a deeper level with your organization. If they gave a substantial amount, it’s likely they are very moved by your mission and would be thrilled to hear how they can further meet your needs.

(Tip 1: Don’t leave the conversation without what we in the marketing biz refer to as a call to action. This just means you’ll be asking them to do something. It could be very simple or a bigger ask, depending on the relationship, conversation, or needs. Examples could include setting up a follow up appointment, making an introduction, becoming a larger donor, or a spot on the board. The point is to make the most of the interaction.)

(Tip 2: Create reminders to follow up with these people throughout the year. Whether you’re just personally emailing to say hello or sending them some sort of update, check in with them at least once a quarter to let them know your nonprofit values their relationship. This will also take some of the stress and pressure off of having to squeeze everyone in at the end of the year—bonus!)

How will you communicate with year-end donors in the New Year?



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

One of your best bets for building momentum and donor retention in the first quarter is to build on your efforts in the last one.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.