Three Essential Elements to Non-Profit Success

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with a college friend that I had not seen in 20 years. We reconnected because she is thinking about creating a new non-profit organization and wanted to brainstorm about its potential. Since I work with a number of “founder organizations”, this was a good time to stretch my brain. The three elements that I identified for success for a new non-profit organization, I believe, apply to all non-profit organizations.

The first element is to identify any organizations, profit or non-profit, that offer similar services and identify the unique traits of the new organization. In some ways, this is similar to the opportunity/threat exercise that many organizations use during strategic planning. So the opportunity is the uniqueness of the mission and service of the new organization. How will this new organization make a difference in people’s lives? The threat is the potential competition. The proliferation of non-profit organizations over the past decade has created many organizations that are competing to serve the same community with similar services. If there are competitors, the new non-profit needs to distinguish it from competing organizations or decide to collaborate, rather than compete.

The second element is to begin to immediately identify, individuals who can be the organizations “rain makers”. Who might serve on the board? Who are potential major donors? Who are experts in the field who can give valuable expertise? Now is the time to begin sharing the organizations vision with them. Thinking big and getting the volunteers who can help you the most is important!

The third element is a plan for capitalization. In my experience, I have found that this is the critical element for success. Just as a new business needs capitalization, so does a new non-profit. It is a fallacy to think that because you have a good idea, that people will automatically contribute to the new organization. Establishing an effective fundraising program takes both time and money, so the new organization should be capitalized with twelve to 24 months of expenses. Many times individuals begin a non-profit with their own nest egg, assuming that sometime in the near future, fundraising will follow. Those of us in fundraising know the importance of a well designed program to raise the funds needed to deliver the services. So, how do these three elements related to existing organizations?

We should always be aware of organizations that deliver services similar to ours. When I worked for the American Diabetes Association Research Foundation (ADARF), I signed up for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF) newsletter. Knowing the messaging and events for the competing organization was beneficial. It also enabled me to highlight the benefits of the ADARF vs. JDF when speaking to potential donors whose children had juvenile diabetes.

All organizations need those volunteer “rain makers” and donors. They agree to become involved in the organization because they understand the value of the mission of the organization. They want to be part of making a difference in people’s lives. Every day, we development professionals should keep our eyes and ears open for potential rain makers.

You make think of the need for capitalization in the venture capital arena, but maintaining a steady and growing stream of financial support is essential for all non-profit organization to thrive. When an organization is thinking of growing its services, or adding a new product, it needs to think about how it can provide the financial support necessary for Non Profit Growth.

Whether we are just beginning to think about forming a non-profit, or a veteran of many years, attention to each of these three elements will increase our success.

Mary Ellen has more than 22 years of experience as a major gifts and planned giving professional, working for educational, civic and health organizations and associations. She received her MBA from the University of Detroit and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).

Mary Ellen has raised over $14 million dollars from individuals, corporations and foundations working for organizations such as Georgetown University, the American Diabetes Association, the Association of Nurse-Midwives Foundation and the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.

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