Starting and leading a successful nonprofit is not an easy task, but one well worth pursuing for the positive impact you can have on the people you serve. Over the years, I’ve worked as a consultant for many nonprofits to help shape their mission statements and improve operations. These are a few points to consider as you develop or reconfigure the pillars of your organization:
Hone your mission statement. Start by writing or revising the reason your nonprofit exists by being very specific. For example, serving at-risk youth sounds good, but what does that phrase really mean? If your goal is to serve local children in middle school who may be at risk of joining a gang by providing after-school reading and sports programs, the purpose and goals of your organization will be much clearer, which will make it infinitely easier to enlist volunteers and engage your audience.
Become a servant leader. Everything you do should be centered on serving and meeting the needs of your constituency. Don’t be a transactional leader, for example, by asking volunteers or employees to complete X because it’s in your plan. How will each action you take impact the people you serve? You are a leader because of the power your constituency gives you—both the people you serve and your volunteers.
Focus on attracting incredibly committed, mission-based volunteers. Volunteers only work for an organization because they’re passionate about your cause. Let’s look at an example to make this come to life: What if Habitat for Humanity didn’t exist? Certain people may never be able to afford homes, which could mean they move frequently, forcing their children to change schools mid-year or every year. It not only disrupts what these students learn, but also the relationships they and their parents build in their communities. Moves like that can fracture communities. Since Habitat for Humanity® knows there’s a strong need to create self-sustaining neighborhoods with permanent residents, it can use that message to recruit people who care about its goals.
Create and maintain a varied donor base. Many nonprofits receive three- to five-year grants as they begin positively impacting their communities. Don’t count on grants as continued funding, but instead as seed money. Focus on individual contributors as well as larger donors in the long term. Host or sponsor events. By hosting a run, for example, you’ll allow people to raise money on your behalf, reaching out to their networks. Those small donations may lead to larger involvement if someone who is asked to donate (or, in this case, a runner) is moved by your message. Build small-to-big, big-to-small frequently to ensure you have the money you need to operate and positively impact your audience every year.
Communicate with the public. Share your message consistently in person, online, at a sponsored event—everywhere. Make your nonprofit known locally or throughout the area you serve. People need to know your organization exists, why, and your achievements so far. Broad awareness will make it easier for you to enlist new volunteers, for those volunteers to gather small donations, and, ultimately, help you enlist larger donors more frequently.
Build a strong board of directors. These individuals not only need to be passionate about and committed to your nonprofit, they also need to understand their roles to engage the public in other avenues on your behalf. They should also be able to provide expert insight to shape everything from accounting and building or varying your donor base to launching new events and making introductions for new partnerships. Each member should be a substantial contributor to your nonprofit’s operations.
As your nonprofit evolves over the years, your tactics need to change. Do your volunteers, sponsors, and board match your organization’s mission and vision? Constantly revise your plan to accurately reflect the goals of your nonprofit.
Since joining Walden University in 1996, Dr. Gary Kelsey has served in a variety of roles, including core contributing faculty member, residency coordinator, and former associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Administration. He is also principal consultant of Gary Kelsey and Associates. During the past 23 years, he has provided assistance and training to more than 250 nonprofit, philanthropic, education, and government organizations.