Running a non-profit can be a tremendous challenge. Those who are deep in the planning and execution of campaigns understand the magnitude of their efforts – and the consequences of poor execution. Day in and day out, organizations are struggling to move the mission forward, encouraging their volunteers to raise donations and bring in more support. It’s an uphill battle, as evidenced by the steady decline in charitable giving since 2015, per the Blackbaud Index. Growing an organization in our digital age, when contributions are down, is a challenge that requires a more tactical approach than just marketing. It requires a complete audit of operational processes, while also looking at ways to streamline donor outreach. Because so much of what you do relies on volunteers, there will always be reliability issues that stunt the growth of your programs. It’s a challenge faced by even the most well-funded organizations. With a little guidance, a few tools, and the right people, you can correct those operational and outreach issues and continue focusing on growth.
Tackle the Major Obstacles First – Resource Management and OperationsBudgetary issues, in addition to a fatigued, disparate workforce, can tap what little resources you have available. They can stunt the growth and momentum your organization may have already achieved. Aging processes can also create operational bottlenecks that make it virtually impossible to set time aside for donor outreach. It’s not easy to direct teams and oversee operations when you’re constantly managing broken processes and disengaged staff. Image Source Here are the key areas that you’ll need to address.
1. Finding the Right Tools for the TaskVolunteers aren’t necessarily working out of a central office anymore. In a digital age, your team is spread out and (likely) spread thin, working remotely to balance life, work, and volunteer obligations. With the right tools you can create a cohesive team that is easier to lead. You’re likely already utilizing some kind of a customer relationship management tool (CRM) for maintaining and cataloging donors. Thankfully, many of the tools you’ll use work with virtually every popular CRM. Here’s how the right tools can be used to solve common bottlenecks in your organization:
Managing and Executing New ProjectsIt’s a bit like trying to manage an orchestra, isn’t it? With all the individual projects and tasks spread across volunteers, it’s a chore to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be, and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. A project management system can bring everything into one place so you can assign and track tasks and monitor campaign progress. Smartsheet is a great choice because it’s easy to customize, and even easier to learn. Image Source
Team CommunicationA lot of organizations communicate with volunteers and team leaders via email and by phone or text. As conversations travel back and forth, critical information can get buried in email threads. The original message can also be miscommunicated as it’s passed along through phone and text paraphrasing. Using a communication tool, you can bring all the dialogue into one place for timely, accurate discussions. Slack is a terrific communication tool for keeping your team in the loop. Have one large group discussion, or create channels where individual teams can talk. Messages are never lost, so it’s a great way to keep track of every discussion. Image Source
Reliability and AccountabilityEven with a project management system, it can be a challenge to keep up on tasks floating across volunteer groups – especially when multiple parties are involved and tasks or projects change hands. Using a process management tool like Tallyfy, you can easily create approval workflows for your team. When a task moves to the next step or changes hands, the individual accountable receives a notification. If approval is required for a task to move forward, a team leader or administrator can be notified. This automation creates more accountability and ensures that tasks aren’t easily forgotten or missed. Image Source You can get the most out of these web-based resources by working with a virtual assistant. Smaller tasks, team updates, and resource management can be taken off your plate to give you more time to focus on operations and growth.
2. Legal ComplianceWith changing regulations and online operations extending across state lines, legal compliance can be a major issue – and a costly one. There’s a lot to keep track of in order to stay compliant, including:
- Maintaining records and minutes
- Filing 990 returns on time
- Following bylaws and guidelines for conducting board meetings
- Generating and adhering to policies, such as conflict-of-interest policies
3. Donor CommunicationThe growth of an organization relies strongly on communication – specifically, communication with donors. Improving communication and producing more effective outreach starts with having the right tools.
Step 1: Organize DonorsA CRM for managing critical donor information makes it easy for volunteers to leverage the personal data of donors and encourage support. The more information that is stored, the easier it is for volunteers to make a personal connection with donors. Donor information can be imported from spreadsheets to populate a CRM, and many online donation platforms can automatically upload donor information into a CRM once donations are made. Image Source A CRM will also make it easy to track donations historically per donor, and sort them through reports to create targeted contact lists.
Step 2: Create a Communication PlanA plan for communication with donors doesn’t need to be complex. It just needs to include a few key items:
- How often does donor outreach take place?
- Who is responsible for contacting donors?
- What methods of contact are used?
- How often does follow up take place?
- How are donors segmented for a contact campaign (frequency of donation, size of donation, date since last donation, etc.)?
Step 3: Create Talking PointsThe most effective outreach will happen when volunteers are all on the same page and they know what to say to donors when they connect. You shouldn’t create a script, but you still want to offer enough guidance so that volunteers are comfortable when talking to donors. Create a list of three to five bullet points that speak to the mission and values of your organization, along with the value proposition. The value proposition basically answers the question “Why should I donate or support your cause?” Image Source To supplement those bullet points, create a short list of the most frequently-asked questions from donors, along with the recommended answer. This information makes outreach more fluid, and volunteers will be less likely to try getting out of making calls when they have supportive information to work with.
Step 4: Always Follow UpNo matter the outcome of an interaction with a donor, always follow up within 24 hours and send a sincere “thank you.” Email is a sufficient means to follow up. If you use a CRM, you can create automated workflows that trigger after contact is made, so an email is automatically generated. If you have difficulty finding volunteers to communicate with donors, or have had less than desirable results in the past from unreliable volunteers, a VA may be a smart investment. With a good communication plan in place, a virtual assistant can plug in and start making contact immediately using the tools you have in place.
4. Balancing costsImage Source Managing the finances while balancing the costs of a non-profit is no small feat. Growth relies on compliance and utilizing funds in a way that ensures that expenses are covered, and funds are available for growth programs, mission support, and marketing and advertising. Rather than trying to manage the organization’s funds in-house, which either takes significant time and attention or requires a dedicated treasurer/chief financial officer, your organization should outsource. Tasking a remote accountant or outsourced chief financial officer removes the burden of financial compliance and balance sheets from your team. You’ll also reduce the overall cost of managing and balancing finances.
Step 1: Agency or Accountant?When outsourcing, you have your choice between working with an individual freelance accountant or outsourcing to an agency. There are benefits to each and it really boils down to the scale of your organization and the kind of relationship you’re looking for. A freelance accountant will give you a more personalized experience, and in time will become very familiar with how you operate. They’ll also have a vested personal interest in your success, as individual accountants can only handle so many clients. Depending on the volume of work and commitment you require, your account could be a significant portion of their income. For smaller organizations, working with an individual might be a favorable cost-saving choice. Image Source The only real con of working with an individual is that same limitation on time. They’re likely to have other clients and are less likely to be available in off-hours. If you have an urgent matter, it might be difficult to reach them, or get something turned around quickly. For larger organizations, it may be best to outsource to an agency that employs a bank of accountants. While an accountant is typically assigned to a client, if they become unavailable for any reason the agency will have another accountant take over. You may get faster turnarounds with an agency, but you’re less likely to get that personalized touch of working with an individual who is self-employed.
Step 2: Set ExpectationsWhen you decide to outsource, you need to establish your expectations up front. This is easier to do with an agency because they typically offer a set range of services in a subscription model. Your initial agreement and expectations should include:
- The services or blocks of hours you’re paying for each month, and how much it will cost
- The responsibilities of the accountant and scope of their duties
- How documents are shared
- Communication expectations, including frequency of reporting
Step 3: Gather the Data and ReviewBefore you can tackle cost balancing, you’ll need to go through an onboarding process. Meet with your accountant to provide historical records, income reports, and receipts and expenses, as well as programs, tools, software, and other services that have recurring fees. You’ll also want to provide budget information for your organization. Your accountant will use this information, along with anything else they may require, to audit your bookkeeping and create a plan moving forward. Image Source
Step 4: Make Cuts and Revise BudgetsOnce the accountant has a firm understanding of your organization’s financial position, they can provide you with a complete report of income from donations and charitable support, outbound payments around your organization’s cause, and other operational costs and expenses. With this information, you can review costs with your team leaders, as well as the board, to determine where costs and unnecessary expenses can be reduced. Streamlining and balancing costs lets you put more money into programs that support your cause. It’s also an opportunity to shift funds to programs or departments that may need a revised budget in order to have a greater impact.
5. Accountability in ProcessesImage Source Every organization – large and small – suffers from the same problem: missed opportunities and forgotten tasks. The more volunteers on a project and the more complex the task, the more likely something is to slip through the cracks or have a follow up get missed. Those issues, and even bottlenecks in processes, all interrupt and inhibit communication with donors. The simplest error can create a ripple effect that has a significant impact on growth. Approval workflows and better process tracking can add accountability and ensure that every project, no matter the scale, is taken through to completion. Refining your processes to add that accountability is simple:
Step 1: Identify Problem ProcessesEverything you and your team do within your organization is part of a process. Over time, as a non-profit grows, processes can become cumbersome and may not scale with your organization. If you’re struggling with growth, look to the various processes to see where changes should be made. Start with the processes that have the most impact on generating donations, as well as those that can impact the support of programs around your cause.
Step 2: Review and Audit Your ProcessesAfter identifying and prioritizing processes, examine them from end to end. Look at where the process starts and how it progresses. This could include:
- How communications are sent and tracked
- The work involved and who does the work
- Who is responsible for the outcome
- What the expected outcome is vs. what occurs
- How much time should be spent vs. how much time is being spent
- What software or hardware is involved
- How the process feeds into other processes
Step 3: Involve Volunteers and StaffYou’ll have a different perspective looking at processes from the outside, so it can be helpful to bring in your team when reviewing processes. They perform the tasks regularly, and they’ll have the best insight into what’s not working, or what’s creating frustrations and slowdowns in their work. They may even be able to offer solutions to improve the process. Image Source To keep things running smoothly, consider giving your team some measure of autonomy. If they have the ability to manage and refine processes when bottlenecks start to occur, they can quickly make adjustments and revise processes to keep the workflow efficient. Autonomy also helps with accountability. People take pride in owning a solution that works, so if they helped improve the processes they’ll be more likely to work more efficiently and reliably going forward.
Step 4: Add Tools for AccountabilityIf accountability is still a concern and you want to make sure that operations run smoothly, you can use a tool like Tallyfy or Process Street to create approval processes. This will create accountability at every step, as approvals are required for tasks and processes to progress. Improving processes and accountability issues could be as simple as finding the right person for a specific task, or it could be more complex, like finding and purchasing software to replace out-of-date programs. Or it could mean scrapping processes entirely and starting from scratch. Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments, schedule follow-ups to review the updated processes within a week. Set a schedule going forward to regularly review processes every quarter, and encourage volunteers to speak up if they encounter bottlenecks. This way you can be proactive and tackle process issues before they become a major problem.
Improving Outreach – How to Attract and Engage Donors and SupportersImage Source Fundraising is the lifeblood of any non-profit. Unfortunately, it also takes a significant amount of time and volunteer effort to make outbound calls and knock on doors. Since most of your volunteers aren’t professionally-trained fundraising experts, it can be difficult to solicit donations and support. Traditional channels for fundraising are also less effective than they once were. You’ll need to pivot and try new avenues to gain donor support in a digital age.
1. Content MarketingToday, much of the marketing and advertising done by major brands and successful nonprofits is based on content. Content marketing takes a variety of forms, and for the nonprofit it offers a great way to share the organization’s story and mission. As that content spreads and is shared by supporters on social media, visibility will increase and new donors can find their way to you. The greatest benefit of content marketing for the nonprofit is the low cost. If you have the time, or have volunteers with the right skills, you can produce the content in-house with no cost other than the time you put into it. Even outsourcing content production can be relatively cheap compared to more expensive traditional marketing channels. A well-written article for $200 that delivers tens of thousands of global visits over the life of the content is a bargain compared to a $5,000 radio spot that might only last 30 days with limited geographic reach. Content marketing should be part of your overall strategy because your audience is out there on the web, searching for content related to their special interests. The more content you produce and distribute, the better the chances are that those potential donors will find you. Here’s how to create a content strategy that will attract those donors and supporters to your cause.
Step 1: Know Your AudienceThe most successful marketers are able to connect with their audience because they have a strong understanding of who they are. They created a persona that represents their ideal customer using hard data combined with a little assumption. You need to create one or more personas that represent your ideal donors. If you’ve done any fundraising in the past, and you have customer data stored, use this to create audience segments. For creating content, you’re most interested in:
- What donors are passionate about
- What gets them excited or fired up, specifically around your cause
- Where they spend their time online (social channels, groups, forums)
- What kind of content they’re most interested in (articles, videos, images)
- What other organizations or causes they follow
Step 2: Choose the Right Content FormatsContent comes in many forms on the web, and not every type of content will be effective with your audience. Some people prefer to read blogs, articles, and ebooks, while others would rather watch a short video or documentary, listen to a podcast, or browse image galleries. Image Source The most common content types include:
- Blog posts on your site
- Articles posted to other sites
- Infographics rich with data
- Videos (long videos on YouTube or short videos on Instagram or Facebook)
- Slide decks
- Interactive content (quizzes, polls, and surveys)
Step 3: Create Content ConsistentlyOnce you’ve settled on the content formats you want to create, start scheduling content production. Take a look at the content commonly being shared around your cause, and brainstorm topics using that content as inspiration. A virtual assistant can help you schedule those topics using a simple calendar or spreadsheet so you’re producing multiple pieces of content each week. Be sure to stick to your dates and maintain consistency. The more frequent and consistent the content, the better the results. If you find it difficult to get content published, that’s OK. Use your own experience to craft content outlines, then pass them on to a ghost writer or virtual assistant. A VA is there to do the heavy lifting and help keep you on schedule.
Step 4: Guest PostWhile you’re creating posts for your own site, you’ll also want to create articles that are hosted elsewhere. This is a great way to start generating more traffic to your website or blog and to raise awareness for your cause. Find Relevant Opportunities – There are countless blogs out there in virtually every industry that are happy to accept guest posts, and they often advertise that fact on their websites. To find those opportunities, do some quick Google searches such as:
- Top X blogs (where X is your topic or industry)
- X guest post
- X guest blogger
- X writers needed
- X blog for us
Step 5: Promote Your ContentSimply creating the content isn’t enough. You need to promote your content to get it in front of a much larger audience. There are lots of ways to promote content, including:
- Content promotion tools and platforms like Quuu, Buzzstream, Google Amp, and Outbrain
- Social pushes through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other relevant channels
- Tools like ContentMarketer that help you find influencers and connect for shout-outs and targeted promotions
- Sharing within specific groups and communities
- Paid social with sponsored or boosted posts
- Email lists
- Cross-promoting with influencers and other organizations
Step 6: Repurpose and DistributeDistribution goes along with promotion to a certain extent, but it involves a little more work. Rather than reposting the same duplicate content on other platforms or channels, you should repurpose the content. Repurposing is simply the act of taking one piece of content and changing it into a different format without necessarily rewriting it (much.) For example: Blogs – You could take a blog post and turn it into a video, talk about the highlights on a podcast, or create a series of engaging images using big data or facts from the blog as captions. Reports – Research reports and industry data can be pulled to create an engaging and easy-to-read infographic, slide deck, or presentation, or fleshed out into a blog post. Blog Series – If you have a number of posts around related topics, the information can be combined into a comprehensive ebook to give away to supporters and donors. Videos and Images – Any video from events can be chopped into screen grabs and used to create memes, image carousels, slide decks, or galleries on social channels. Once you’ve repurposed the content, you can find other platforms where you can post that new content and get it in front of a larger audience. Common platforms for distributing content include (but aren’t limited to):
- LinkedIn Pulse
- YouTube, Vimeo, and other video hosting platforms
2. Social MediaImage Source Social media is an area where many .orgs come up short. In fact, it’s common for a lot of businesses to stumble with social media outreach. A new organization might have a handle on its social media campaigns, but as its audience grows, social media transforms into something that requires more time and attention. Organizations often make the mistake of assigning social media to a volunteer or staff member already burdened with other tasks, and they don’t take the time to make posts geared toward the right audience.. Another common mistake is to split the duties across multiple volunteers. This can be effective, but only if you have a very precise and defined workflow, and a team with strong internal communication. Finding the people with the right skill set is just as important as finding people who are interested in helping. Volunteers that aren’t interested in social promotion and would prefer to be helping somewhere else can have a negative impact on your social outreach. Here’s how you can streamline your social media to make it easier to manage, improve engagement, grow your donor network, and garner more support from followers.
Step 1: Build Out a Content CalendarMost organizations don’t have any real plan in place for posting content to their social profiles. Posts are made on the fly when someone sends off an email and says, “We should make a post about…” When posts are made, they generally involve updates about events, donor support, and media relations for the organization. They typically don’t provide additional value, and tend to be reactionary. Image Source A content calendar is a great way to plan the bulk of your content for the coming weeks and months. At a glance you can see what posts are coming up, and everyone in the organization with access – like your marketing team and leadership – can stay in the loop. Creating a content calendar is extremely easy; a simple calendar template in a spreadsheet is sufficient. Using a Google Calendar shared with your team is also a great option. What Goes in the Calendar? Setting up your calendar each month is easy:
- Decide how often you’re going to make posts
- Decide which channels you’re going to use
- Brainstorm a list of topics to be covered
- Build relevant holidays in your content schedule
- Split those topics across various channels
- Each day you post, make an entry that lists the channel, topic, and the time for the post
Step 2: Integration With the Right ToolsUsing a calendar to plan content can save you a lot of scrambling in the future, but if you want to preload any content, you have to do it manually channel by channel. This can be incredibly time consuming. Curating content that provides value to your audience can also eat up a great deal of time, but it’s necessary to share things outside of what you create. Thankfully, there are a number of tools you can use to help further streamline the sourcing, management, and scheduling of your social content. Buffer – Buffer is a terrific tool that allows you to schedule content to be posted at a later time across major social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can create the posts or curate links, set the date and time, and that’s it. Once the scheduled time hits, the content is pushed to your social channels. Image Source Buffer also has a browser extension. If you find a terrific article, video, or image you want to share with your audience, you can add it to your queue with a single click. Hootsuite – Hootsuite has long been a popular application for managing multiple accounts. While Buffer is geared towards scheduling content, Hootsuite allows you to monitor, post, and respond to all of your social channels through a single interface. This is incredibly helpful if you’re working with multiple social accounts and need to get posts out to each multiple times a day, while also responding to followers. The mobile application provides the same flexibility, so if you’re on the road or at an event, you can still maintain full and efficient control over your social channels. Image Source Quuu – Quuu is a great tool you can use to fill the gaps in your content calendar and eliminate the extra time spent on sourcing and curating content. You can mark categories that are most relevant to your audience, and Quuu will hand-pick high-quality articles for you. The best part is that Quuu integrates with Buffer, so it will automatically load content into a queue to be scheduled for publication. Here’s the cherry on top: while each of these services has a premium version, they’re all completely free to use. You can integrate them into your social strategy to see how they streamline your social outreach, and upgrade if you feel the value is there. Because of the mobile nature of each of these tools, a virtual assistant can fully manage the integration. That includes queue monitoring and keeping hours trimmed by using a platform like Hootsuite to reduce the amount of time spent monitoring, posting, and responding. Image Source
Step 3: Create Amazing ContentOne of the areas where a lot of organizations botch their outreach is by creating content that is too promotional. When all you’re doing is asking for the sale, requesting donations, and trying to push people to take action, your audience will begin to shut it out, much the same way we tune out interruptive marketing like commercials and banner ads online. If you want more engagement from your supporters, and to grow your following, then you have to take a more creative and value-oriented approach to the content you post. Typically, businesses follow the 80/20 rule with social media: 80% of your content should focus on providing value and be informative or educational with zero ties to promotion. Special offers, sales, etc. should be limited to the remaining 20% of content. For a non-profit, the approach is a little different. Your approach should follow the Rule of Thirds:
- 1/3 Appreciation
- 1/3 Advocacy
- 1/3 Appeals
Step 4: Start EngagingPosting content isn’t enough, and only makes up a small portion of the time spent on social media. The meat of it will be in the direct engagement that happens with your followers. Responding to comments, as well as engaging other pages and influencers, not only keeps your current fans engaged but helps draw new supporters and donors to your cause. Here’s what you should do:
- Take time each day, a few times a day, to respond to comments from followers
- Post to other pages as your .org page; focus on the ones with some relevancy to your cause
- Find and engage influencers in social; respond to their posts and share their content with your followers
3. Email MarketingThe acquisition of new donors is important, but you can’t neglect past donors and the support they bring. While the retention rate of first-year donors is only 23.7%, the retention rate of multi-year donors jumps to just over 58%. Build a relationship with those supporters and keep them engaged outside of fundraising. That will keep your retention rates up and they’ll be more likely to respond when you call on them. Email marketing is a great, non-invasive, and non-interruptive way to stay in front of supporters while also providing value. Even better, the ROI is significant. As your list grows, a single email to your supporters could trigger an influx of donations, greatly reducing the time it takes to hit fundraising targets. Here’s how develop and grow your list to boost support from subscribers:
Step 1: Set Up An Email Marketing Software AccountIf you don’t have a list already established, a platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact is easy to set up and a worthwhile investment. Many of these platforms offer a completely free version (up to a certain number of subscribers) to get you started. For example, MailChimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers; after that, the pricing starts at just $10/month. Once you have created an account, you can import the names and emails of your past donors and supporters to get a headstart before starting any promotions to gain new subscribers.
Step 2: Grow Your SubscribersNow that you have an email or newsletter created, you want to let your supporters know about it. Create opt-in forms for your website, and integrate your opt-in with Facebook to make it easy for fans to join. If you use any donation platforms or online forms for donations, make sure you’re collecting email addresses as part of the donation process. Tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact make it very easy to integrate with platforms like that, so donor emails are automatically imported. If there’s no integration with a specific platform you use, it’s just as easy to upload a spreadsheet containing name and email address to add those donors to your email subscription lists. Organizations that sell products in a physical store or at events can collect emails as part of the checkout process. Using an app for credit card sales or order processing will often grab an email address to send receipts. While these apps may not integrate with your email service, you can pull customer reports and manually import contact information into your email platform. An online e-commerce store like Shopify or BigCommerce collects emails during the checkout process, and can integrate with tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact to automatically update your subscriber lists whenever someone makes a purchase. One thing to keep in mind: never purchase email leads. They are rarely targeted, often cold, and will only drive up unsubscribe rates and spam reports. Grow your list naturally through promotion.
Step 3: Create an AutoresponderEmail platforms let you send emails to your subscribers any time you like. The emails you send for donor support are likely to be fairly spaced out, so you want to fill the gaps in between with value-oriented content. This way you’re not hitting donors constantly with donation requests, and the emails keep you front-of-mind. Image Source Your emails can contain anything that provides value. You can:
- Highlight other donors
- Share stories of your cause and victories you’ve had
- Share blog posts you’ve written
- Schedule content curated from other sources
- Write emails with tips for supporting the cause (non-transactional)