How to Build a Successful Nonprofit

The key to maintaining a successful nonprofit organization is to have a diverse fundraising strategy that builds upon your organization’s core strengths and resources. It is essential, therefore, to know your organization, understand your place in the giving community, and build on your strengths and resources.

Once, when I worked for a small, under-resourced organization, we created a project that perfectly fit a community need, was structured for efficiency, and had a large return on investment from donors. I approached an eager donor who was familiar with our efforts, our successes, and our available resources. I asked him for $1.3M. He told me he loved the project, was thrilled with our design, and really wanted to give us the gift. Then, he said, “unfortunately, your organization doesn’t have the ability to receive a gift as large as $1.3M.” I was dumbfounded. We had done everything right in evaluating, justifying, and planning a strategy to meet an essential need in our community. Yet, as an organization, we didn’t have the operational structure to receive a large donation. In that instant of excitement and disappointment, I realized that all fundraising efforts should only start after a close examination of an organization’s situation, their board, their staff, their infrastructure and their standing in the community. Each of these will influence an organization’s potential for raising funds.

The key steps in the process of assessing your fundraising capacity are: understanding how your organization is perceived internally and externally, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and prioritizing your efforts and resources. Likewise, a solid market analysis is essential in developing a diversified and successful fundraising strategy.

After these initial strategic considerations, the next level of capacity building is to determine the size of your potential donor database. Once you identify these donors, begin making the match between you and them and solicit funds to develop projects of mutual interest.

Specifically, the steps to build your organization into a financial success are:

  1. Know your organization by creating:
    1. Strategic plan
    2. Market analysis
    3. Needs assessment
    4. Current assessment of potential donors
  2. Build a successful board consisting of:
    1. Community leaders
    2. Business leaders
    3. Political leaders
    4. Philanthropic leaders
  3. First level fundraising strategies consist of:
    1. Classic and contemporary media presence, from local news to social media
    2. Regularly scheduled newsletters and updates
    3. Direct solicitations to the donors you already know
    4. Building member databases
      1. Collect emails at public events
      2. Provide free membership while sharing emails
      3. Use current members to introduce new members
    5. Annual appeal letters to donors
      1. Tell a story
      2. Explain how the potential donor can help
      3. Ask for the money
    6. Exploring area philanthropies & corporate donors from
      1. Community foundations
      2. Local businesses
  4. Second level fundraising strategies consist of:
    1. Grants
    2. Small to medium-sized special events
    3. Planned giving programs
  5. Top level fundraising strategies consist of:
    1. Capital campaigns
    2. Large scale events

Fundraising strategies vary from one type of organization to another. If the organization is small, it is best to employ a strategy that builds your supporter database and directly solicits them for cash donations. In contrast, a large, established organization may be in the perfect position to host a sizable gala.

When your organization has a track record of successes, strategic efforts should be made to attract the most powerful and influential board members. These board members will bring credibility to your organization as you begin to seek larger donations. As your board stature grows, so will your options in fundraising.

An honest assessment of your organization and your place in the community will help you understand the best approach to take to effectively secure funds. Thus, with broad community recognition, a strong track record of success, financial efficiency, and influential board members, you’ll be able to employ a large diversity of effective fundraising strategies.

David Niebuhr

Instructor at Grant Training Center
Dr. David H. Niebuhr is an expert in strategic planning, project management and fund development.

Latest posts by David Niebuhr (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.