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Investing in a Sustainable Nonprofit Future
Nell Edgington

April, 2013

I wrote last month about the crippling nonprofit fear of investment. Related to that, nonprofits need to understand and embrace the concept of Return on Investment. Nonprofit leaders often exist in such a world of scarcity that they don’t recognize that an investment today can have a huge payoff down the road. And not recognizing the value of a return on investment, particularly when it comes to a nonprofit’s fundraising function, can keep nonprofits in starvation mode.

One of the ways I consult with nonprofits is coaching a development director or executive director to increase money flowing to the organization. We work on getting board members to bring money in the door, identifying new donors, crafting a compelling message, launching new revenue streams, developing an overall financing plan.

This work could have a huge future payout:

  • Board members no longer sit on their hands but actively recruit new donors to the organization.
  • New donors are acquired through a thoughtful, strategic major donor campaign.
  • A compelling case for investment convinces foundations and major donors to invest at higher levels and for longer periods.
  • A new earned income stream brings in unrestricted revenue.
  • An effective financing plan puts scarce resources to their highest and best use.

If you think of this in terms of return on investment it’s a no-brainer. You have two options:

  1. Continue to struggle day-to-day for the foreseeable future, or
  2. Make an investment today in order to dramatically increase funding and sustainability tomorrow

Let’s do the math. If a nonprofit with a budget of $1 million were to spend, say $5,000 on hands-on coaching to develop a financing plan, create a compelling case for investment, get their board engaged in fundraising, and launch a major donor campaign those elements could translate into well over $100,000 of new money annually for the nonprofit.

Here’s how:

  • A financing plan clarifies and marshals resources so staff and board know exactly where the money flows and who will do what to make it happen. The very act of creating and monitoring a financing plan could increase funding by 5%, or $50,000.
  • A case for investment, when done well, becomes the backbone of any and all money-raising efforts. It can be integrated into your website, your social media efforts, your donor letters, your presentations. Telling a concise, compelling story makes donors sit up and take notice and adds perhaps another 2% increase, or $20,000.
  • If your entire board starts (in their own unique ways) bringing money in the door that could increase your bottomline as well. If each member of a 15-person board starts to increase their own giving and/or the giving of those in their network by $1,000 each, that’s another $15,000.
  • A major donor campaign charts a logical, strategic way for you to identify and acquire new donors. Getting strategic about how you find and recruit those donors will ensure much greater success, perhaps a 5% increase, or $50,000.

So with very conservative estimates the original $5,000 investment in coaching translates to $135,000 in new money every year thereafter.

My favorite example of this is when I helped KLRU, Austin’s PBS station use $350,000 in capacity capital to do many of the above things. After 3 years of implementing a new financing plan, using a new case for investment, and more, they were raising $1.6 million in NEW REVENUE each year. That’s a huge return on investment.

If you make a smart investment in improving the money engine of your nonprofit, that investment will pay off many times over, creating a more secure financial future for your organization.

If you’d like to learn more about how I coach nonprofit staff to bring more money in the door, check out my Coaching services, or send me an email to schedule a time to talk further.



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