Charities! Top 3 Things to Keep Your Org. in the Black

It’s a new year and 2011 is going to dish out some tough competition for donor dollars. Here are a few things to consider for your organization’s strategic plan. So read on and put pen to paper for the social good.

#1: What percentage of time is spent on donor cultivation and special events?

For many organizations, this is a hard question to answer. DO NOT consider them one in the same. They are very different. If more than 25% of your position is consumed with Special Events, it is time to seriously consider outsourcing these duties to a reliable event planner WITH A TEAM. I cannot stress the “WITH A TEAM” part enough. Event planners that employ a team of people to manage an event; gala, run, festival, are able to save your charity money in the long run. Think about it. If your marketing/development position and additional staffers are putting a chunk of their efforts in events, that essentially means you would need to include the portion of each staff member’s salary to the event budget for an accurate net profit number.

By freeing up the staff of most of the event duties, it allows staff to cultivate donor relationships which is the true most productive mechanism for the survival of a non-profit organization.

#2: How is your organization creating awareness?

You really would be surprised at the number of organizations who do not regularly communicate with their established audience of previous donors, sponsors, members, service recipients, program partners, media contacts and the like. Many organizations still simply send out a snail mail newsletter once a quarter and hope that is reminder enough that they exist and need help.

Essential Tools:

  • Email Newsletters & Updates: There are many services available, the most popular being Constant Contact. It allows users to use and customize a newsletter template OR enter their own HTML branded templates for a membership fee structure. For small – medium sized charities, I suggest Vertical Response. Vertical Response has a program for non-profits that gives verified organizations 10,000 free emails per month. Any additional above this number can be sent with a 15% discount. This is a HUGE $$$ saver. – Vertical Response Non-Profit Program
  • Media Relations: Has your charity reached out to the local media who cover special events and benefits in the community? Browse the local papers and community rags. Jot down WHO is writing about topics that are relevant to your mission. Most contact info can be found under the about us section of their websites. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce your organization to a journalist but remember… THEY ARE BUSY. Keep it succinct and relevant so that you get their attention quickly and keep them intrigued. Be ready to send more info if requested and respect their time. Cultivating these relationships can improve the visibility of your organization drastically but be prepared before you pick up that phone.
  • Databases: Your database IS your lifeline. A database management system is the best way for an organization to keep track of their touch points. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about vendors or donors. A database management system allows an organization to segment their audience for targeted messages when using that email newsletter tool. Positive actions are provoked by relevant information that is received by the intended audience. Come on… you know that you instantly hit the delete button on the emails that don’t speak about something you care about immediately. your organized database will allow you to cut through the clutter of your audiences email inbox to peak their interest keeping you top of mind.

Does Your Organization have a STRONG Online Presence?

Nothing can beat face to face interactions for creating prosperous relationships but let’s be realistic. In today’s world of easy access information, the majority of your target audience can and will find out more about your mission online before they choose to attend your event, donate money or recommend  your programs.

Are you visible where they are? Are you giving your audience the ability to keep up with your organization’s happenings and news WITHOUT having to look for it? What do I mean?

  • Social Media: Does your organization’s updates show up on your audiences Facebook profile news feed when they log on? Do they see your current news and reports on their twitter feeds? Are they seeing the value of your programs while they are already viewing their social networks voluntarily? Things to consider, wouldn’t you say?
  • News Releases and Search Engines: If you don’t have a news room for bloggers and news media on your website, you should! Once you have grabbed the attention of a journalist from a print publication, online magazine or blog site, you can guarantee they will search your site and the net for your details. Make it easy for them. Put all the pertinent organization info in one area. Are you utilizing the vast number of outlets to push your news to the search engines ultimately raising your organization’s visibility and direct traffic to an audience LOOKING for an org who is relevant to their needs? Add your news release information to Social Release sites such as Pitch Engine. Here companies/organizations can post their news, photos, logos, event details, mission statement, videos and quick facts for all to see. The format makes it easy for interested parties to share on their tweets and forward to others.
  • Online Participation Is your organization participating in the online conversation? FB, Linked In and Twitter ALL have groups to keep your organization in the social good conversation. This participation keeps the organization image as fresh and insightful, a community partner eager to contribute back, offering it’s expertise, best practices and even asking for feedback. This shows an organizations willingness to be included in the conversation, a dynamic role. The audience doesn’t only want to hear you ask for money. They also want to see the who and how of a charity. The soul of a charity.

This is a lot to consider but in the long run, any charity looking to make a difference will need to evaluate the daily business and whether they are efficient and using their limited resources most productively.