What have you done for me lately? It’s a great question, actually. A very worthy one that should be asked by every person served by a nonprofit organization. It’s a question that assesses an organization’s focus on value.
After all, that’s why nonprofits exist. To deliver service, value, solutions, support, and advocacy for those that are underestimated, unaccounted for, unsupported, unseen, or downright neglected.
Since Covid-19 hit, businesses of every tax designation have been thinking critically about how they’ll need to adapt to the new reality. Businesses with large real estate holdings are rethinking their leases, major operational items are fair game, and tons of small businesses have closed because they couldn’t make it work in these crazy circumstances.
For nonprofit organizations, the anxiety went from normal industry levels to through the roof immediately! Quickly folks pivoted to online fundraising events and producing virtual events about learning how to fundraise virtually.
The thing is, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Firstly, the rush to short term revenue generation made it abundantly clear earlier this year where priorities have been. And here’s the thing, I totally relate! I run a small nonprofit and contend with all the same constraints other Executive Directors and Managing Directors face week in and week out.
But the rush to rethink fundraising without first thinking about ensuring the mission was being met, or thinking critically about the value being generated in the programs, was all too telling.
The fact that in many instances, the people being served by the organizations that pivoted quickly were not part of the initial messaging, says a lot. I have no idea to what degree small nonprofits actually thought about their constituents before their own bank accounts, that would be assuming a lot, but I would wager a guess that there was a lot of that going on based on the communications coming out of the sector in March and April.
It makes sense. Everything got tossed in a blender. But as organizations dedicated to the betterment of our society by effectuating change in necessary social arenas, the #1 item has to always be about the solution we’re offering, the focus on value, and the ways we uniquely make that experience second to none.
However, the focus on nonprofit leaders learning virtual fundraising has not subsided throughout 2020. Every day more Zoom conferences come online honing in on the issue of online fundraising and that somehow being at the top of the priority list all of a sudden.
Here’s the thing…
Focusing on fundraising as the main source of revenue to support a small nonprofit wasn’t working before Covid-19 hit, only much less so since every organization under the sun began asking for donnations. And there are plenty of great causes to support! So how do we as community members know how to disburse our limited charitable donations when everyone is pitching us on the same experience and value prop? And that’s only one tiny part of the problem.
Fundraising shouldn’t have been the priority before Covid and it should only be relegated further in a nonprofits development plans as a result.
Because when your executive leadership is working on fundraising instead of ensuring the organization delivers valuable work as part of its mission, the result is an unsustainable model where leadership isn’t involved in the actual mission itself, but has instead become an expensive administrator.
By constantly thinking about the value generated for the community served, efficient nonprofit leaders can delegate the strategic needs while ensuring that the organization does what it says it will do in better and more impactful ways.
That’s value. Helping people. Not talking to people about how you help people so you can fund the work of helping people. The question is, how does the creation of that value, and focus on value sustain the organization?
The reason someone served by a nonprofit is rightfully entitled to push the organization to deliver the value they said they would, is because that’s what integrity is. Nonprofits don’t exist so that people who say they care about important issues can talk about doing the work.
Ensuring that the communities served by nonprofits feel served, seen, and as though they have been supported in the way they were told they would be, is everything. Oftentimes nonprofits are forced to reverse engineer metrics to get someone outside the organization to validate and fund the work, but by prioritizing value creation over fundraising, you solve both problems.
The reality is that if nonprofits were more focused on value generation and delivery instead of groveling to foundations for the funding to do the work, that organization would provide much more valuable, actionable, and supportive resources for the communities they serve because the work would be the priority – not figuring out a way to fund it.
This also keeps nonprofit leadership engaged in a high-touch way that allows them to see where the value is generated and felt. This is invaluable, especially as part of an important mission.
Instead of trying to figure out how to make a Zoom call as engaging as an in-person fundraising event, why not ensure that the mission is met while the revenue is generated by delivering value elsewhere? The key here is being able to mobilize and focus on value for multiple communities, then connecting them through a model in which the mutual benefit created is passed along the circle until everyone has participated – then you do it again!
In this sense, the serving of multiple communities creates the revenue as well as the model to include various groups in mutual benefit, which makes the process connective in addition to inherently valuable: a super potent mix.
By looking for ways to meet a mission in complementary ways that passes the benefit along to various stakeholders instead of directly to the nonprofit service provider, nonprofits will be able to rally the customers, constituents, and communities they serve in a way that posits value as the tipping point, not some amorphous story.
Value + Connection x Purpose + Community = nonprofit sustainability.
While the anxiety has been real, I do hope that 2020 helps move the nonprofit sector to a psychosocial space in which we begin to remember that the reason we’re doing the work is to meet the mission. It’s not merely a label, a vanity metric of personality, or a logo from which our checks arrive.
As a nonprofit leader, board member, director, or team, the questions are simple in my view:
I didn’t say it was easy, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.
Because as helpful as Zoom is, it’s not more compelling than delivering valuable services and building great relationships with the communities you serve.
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