With tremendous growth comes an abundance of opportunity, and the nonprofit industry in the U.S. has shown exactly that. Overall, nonprofit giving had a growth rate of 4 percent over 2021, with environmental and human rights-related causes growing the most. Opportunities to do more, help more, and be more are at a peak, and nonprofit leaders are expected to capitalize on these upward trends in every way. The great news is that the opportunity is there, it’s just knowing how to use it to your nonprofit’s advantage.
During my years of serving nonprofit organizations, such as Make-A-Wish and Unlimited Possibilities, there have been many successes to enjoy, but also challenges to navigate. Join me in walking through a few of my greatest lessons learned that will empower you to become a smarter leader for your organization, no matter what roadblocks might stand in the way.
Make Sure Your Nonprofit’s Values Show in Your Personal Life
Becoming a 24/7 ambassador for your cause is perhaps the most important key to accomplishment as a nonprofit leader. According to a study, 96 percent of those who give to charitable causes feel a sense of their own morality and ethics to do so, utilizing their own good fortune to help others. In short, personal values inspire giving, so those personal values should be displayed daily of the receiving nonprofit.
For example, if your nonprofit’s central cause is environmental support, your activism and public speaking activities at universities, government institutions and more are of the utmost importance. Having a blog on your website or regular email newsletter that highlights your team’s expertise on the biggest issues facing our climate today is another way to regularly show your passion and dedication as a leader to the cause.
Empower Current Employees and Attract New Ones
The elephant in the room is certainly the labor shortage issue facing many nonprofits today. In 2022, about 40 percent of charities say that employment remains their highest priority as service demands remain elevated with the primary reason being inflation. Some of the leading factors that affect a nonprofit’s ability to recruit and retain staff include salary competition, inability to find childcare, vaccination policies, and stress and burnout.
While some of these factors may not be obstacles that can be avoided, there are ways to appeal to potential employees through a boost in workplace culture alone. In a recent Glassdoor survey, 56 percent of respondents said that good workplace culture was “more important than salary” for job satisfaction. Additionally, 73 percent of respondents said they “would not apply to a company unless its values align with [their] own personal values.” The way you treat your current workforce absolutely matters. Don’t put all of your eggs in the recruiting basket – grow people and teams from within by fostering an engaging environment.
This can be done through examples like putting a stronger focus on diversity and inclusion and taking regular surveys throughout the year to find out what employees need most. Needs change year to year, which is why regular surveys are important. If workers feel included in big decisions, they will feel more engaged and in turn, become more productive. And, people talk – soon the word will get to prospective employees that your nonprofit is the one that cares about their people.
Learn From Past and Present Leadership Role Models
Leadership style takes time to develop. If you are new to a leadership role, it’s important to keep looking towards the philanthropists who inspired you throughout your career. Did the leaders you follow get staff engaged and involved in creative ways? Did they provide ways to recognize and provide awards for outstanding service? How active were they in the surrounding community and for the good of the cause as a whole?
It’s time to look at these leaders in a new way. Beyond admiring them as you have done in the past, it’s time to analyze them and discover their recipe for success. It’s an excellent way to guarantee your own success as the leader of your organization.
Have An Eye For Opportunity Everywhere You Look
Successfully connecting with donors to hit philanthropic goals is no easy task. If it were, every nonprofit would have zero problem raking in tons of support. Having an eye for opportunity is a skill that goes one step further than those of leaders at a typical for-profit organization. Extreme out-of-the-box thinking is required, as well as staying updated with the communication trends and preferences of the times. Here are just a few ways to go about connecting in innovative ways:
- Update External Email Strategies: Ask the question “what do donors want to hear right now?” Acknowledge the economic issues at hand and any problems that might be affecting donors. Also inform of updates to the cause before asking for donations.
- Get Creative on Social Media: Consider that donors may be burnt out on news and information about the state of the world. Photos and testimonials that celebrate the donors themselves provide a great relief from news-related content. With so many organizations for a single cause, make them feel like they are having an impact and seeing actual change through your organization.
- Host More Virtual Meetings and Events: The more virtual quality time spent with donors, the better. In-person events are incredible ways to connect with donors, but only a couple a year are realistic. Virtual events provide more touch points through the year, through happy hours or by taking donors through an experience. For example, if you’re promoting animal rescue, taking donors on a live walk with some of the rescues you are helping for a meaningful way to make them feel more involved.
- Highlight Other Ways to Give: If your organization has products for purchase that contribute to the cause or partnerships with other companies, this should be promoted and encouraged through all channels. The more opportunities and the more creative, the better.
As we all know from our time leading nonprofit organizations, leading is all about knowing how to serve first. There will always be ups and downs economically in the nonprofit industry, but it’s about knowing how to capitalize on the resources at hand. By being the leader that has an eye for opportunity everywhere, showing up to work carrying the values represented, and working to ensure a brighter future for the current workforce and potential recruits, there is no limit to the successes that can be reached.
Written by Dr. Ramin Baschshi.
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