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Is Your Nonprofit Repelling Donors?

Every nonprofit in existence needs money.  Your ability to pay the bills depends upon it, not to speak of your ability to accomplish your mission.  But do you really understand what it takes to be attractive to donors?  Is your organization truly fundable?  Or, have you inadvertently created an atmosphere that repels givers?

In this week’s article, we are going to explore key elements of fundability by looking at three areas of concern:  mission, structure and behavior.

Mission. I have written about this numerous times before.  Your organization’s mission greatly impacts its attractiveness to donors.  To a degree, there is not much you can do about this.  Your purpose is your purpose.  And lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that your choice of mission should be directly determined by its broad base of appeal…or lack thereof.  Just realize that helping cute kids is likely to melt more hearts than studying the effects of fertilizer runoff on pond algae.  The key point here is that for nonprofits with narrower appeal, your messaging and promotional efforts must be both laser targeted and very clear as to what you are asking people to support.  Know your donor.

Structure. By structure, I am primarily talking about governance and management.  Let’s assume that you’ve got mission covered.  But, is your board of directors populated by a diverse group of committed members who individually bring distinct talents to the table?  Or, is this a one-man/woman show with a few reluctant so-called board members who are there for no other reason than to do you a favor?  Unfortunately, the latter is all too common and is usually the result of misguided efforts by the founder to retain “control”.  We’ve addressed this topic when talking about founder’s syndrome.  But do you realize how much importance donors place on this?  You would be amazed at the number of individual donors that look into this before committing to give.  And, the bigger the potential gift, the closer they look.  For institutional donors…like the foundation whose grant you are thinking about applying for…proper governing structure means as much as mission.  Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.  Death-grip control is costing you more than it’s gaining you.

Behavior. This one is closely related to structure, but has more to do with how you are publicly behaving.  Again, let’s assume now that your mission is your mission and you are doing everything you can to target your donor.  You have an excellent and active governing structure.  But, how are you doing on day-to-day compliance?  Are your accounting records up to date…or are you a few months behind?  Are you filing your Form 990 on time every year?  Is it properly prepared by someone who knows what they are doing?  Would you know if it wasn’t?  Believe me, donors are looking.  With resources like Guidestar and Charity Navigator, the giving public is getting more savvy all the time.  They are looking to see what your numbers look like.

It is never too late to shake things up.  If you recognize any of the above as problems for your nonprofit, get started today on fixing them.  It’s a tough environment out there for nonprofits and donors alike.  And with fewer and fewer discretionary dollars to spend, donors will simply stop supporting nonprofits that refuse to get their house in order.

Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. This info is really helpful. Especially for us, as we’re still in our ‘formative’ stages as a non-profit run by youth, for youth…. we at times are extremely overwhelmed. But, we won’t give up. Glad I signed up for this newsletter because it’s keeping us in the know!

  2. Although all are important, what really spoke to me was the Board of Directors. I run into this with some regularity as I work on benefit auctions. It’s hard to have a good auction without a solid Board (or at least some solid support from a good committee).

  3. Good reading, those characteristics you list are not only useful but also bear repeating. Reminding us of our innate responsibilities as nonprofits shows innovative thinking by Foundation Group.

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