Strategic Road Map to Growth: 5 Tips for Nonprofits
Kristina Leroux, COO and Community Engagement Manager
Guest Post by Steven Shattuck of Bloomerang
As nonprofits develop their brand in the
community and the programming for their constituents, it becomes more important
to create a concrete strategic growth plan. This plan contains the specific
steps and objectives that must be reached for that nonprofit to achieve
The strategic growth plan generally consists
of goals and objectives for each of the different nonprofit departments,
mapping out pathways for the fundraising, marketing, and development teams to work and
Given the importance and wide-reaching impact
of your nonprofit’s growth strategy, you need to make absolutely sure every
aspect of the plan is as effective and efficient as possible. While your
nonprofit works on this strategy, whether on your own or with a consultant,
keep the following tips in mind:
Set concrete, specific, and measurable objectives.
Focus on the median donor.
Change your mind about nonprofit overhead.
Keep an eye on emerging nonprofit trends.
Remember, it’s ok to ask for help.
Ready to dive a little deeper into how each of
these tips impacts nonprofit growth strategies? Let’s get started.
1. Set concrete, specific, and
The hierarchy of items your nonprofit wants to
accomplish can be broken down into three different levels:
First, at the top, there’s your mission. Your mission is the
big-picture purpose for your organization. This is the solution to the problem
you identified in the community and the reason your organization was
established. For instance, your mission might be to find a loving home for every dog.
Next, under your mission, there
are your goals. While goals are
frequently confused with objectives, they are very different terms. Goals are
the 6-8 items you want to accomplish to get closer
to your nonprofit’s mission. For example, your goals might include increasing organization brand awareness in
Finally, under your goals are objectives. Objectives are the
specific, measurable items that you need to achieve in order to reach your
nonprofit’s goals. For instance, your objectives might include raising $25,000 in individual donations
during the first quarter.
In order to create a successful growth
strategy, your nonprofit needs to identify each level of this hierarchy. Too
many nonprofits identify their mission and goals but stop strategizing past
that. Well-thought-out objectives are
the most effective way to grow your nonprofit.
A good objective is one that is specific, measurable, and time-based.
Take the example we used earlier: Raise
$25,000 in individual donations during the first quarter. This goal is
specific because it’s discussing only individual donations; it’s measurable
because $25,000 is a quantifiable number; finally, it’s time-based because this
is an objective for the first quarter.
Due to the quantifiable nature of a good
objective, they’re often trackable in your nonprofit’s
donor database. Configure your database dashboard to
show these goals so that you see them every day, keeping them at the forefront
of your mind.
2. Don’t forget the middle donor.
When it comes to your nonprofit’s fundraising
goals and objectives, one of the most commonly overlooked areas of improvement
for nonprofits is the mid-tier donor. Organizations have a tendency to either
focus heavily on acquiring new donors or winning major donations.
While donor acquisition and major donations
are important, when you narrow your focus on these groups, your nonprofit is
leaving a large group of donors out of your eyesight.
When you prioritize your middle-donors, your
nonprofit shifts focus to building
relationships with existing donors. Most donors start giving to your
nonprofit at a low level. However, as they build relationships with your
nonprofit, their donations increase.
This means that improving
donor retention at the lower level leads to
more mid-tier donors. And improving donor retention of mid-tier donors leads to
more major gifts. The last thing you want to do is lose the revenue gained from
this core part of your donor database.
Bloomerang’s donor database article touches on how each level of giving is vital for sustainable fundraising. Here’s an example of what a sustainable organization’s individual fundraising may look like:
As you can see, this organization has an
objective for the number of major, mid-tier, and small donors they want as a
part of their donor database along with their current standing represented by
the green bar. Because each of the bars seems to be advancing around the same
rate, we know that this nonprofit has focused effectively on all three groups
most nonprofits, that middle bar falls behind the others. Make sure all three
of your nonprofit’s donor levels receive an appropriate amount of your
3. Change your mind about
A negative attitude taken about overhead has
been hammered into us as both donors and nonprofit professionals. This is the
idea that any financial risk or investing in our own organizations is
considered irresponsible. In other words, our overhead costs are often thought
of to be our only measure of responsibility.
However, as emphasized by Kivi Leroux Miller, the “low overhead = effectiveness”
traditional way of thinking is outdated and incorrect. Let’s take a few classic
overhead costs as examples:
Salary: It’s well known in the business world
that it’s more expensive to hire new personnel than it is to keep your current
employees. When nonprofits are pressured to pay a less-than-competitive salary
to their employees, they’re more likely to lose those employees and end up overpaying in new hire costs.
Software: When your nonprofit invests in
cheap, inadequate donor-facing software, you risk lowering the user experience
(UX) for potential supporters. Low UX often results in a higher rate of donors
who abandon donation pages and other supportive resources. However, when you
invest in cheap, inadequate management software, your nonprofit risks a lot
more in terms of security threats and accessibility. This article explains how free or cheap options are
a great trial period for new nonprofit software, but you should be ready to
upgrade the investment.
Communications: When nonprofits are cutting
their internal budget, the first thing to go is usually the allocated marketing
funds. However, when this investment is cut, your organization can no longer
effectively get the word out about fundraising opportunities, nonprofit events,
and other opportunities for growth.
Nonprofits are constantly asked to do more
with less. While it’s important for nonprofits to reduce actual waste when it comes to expenses, you should remember that
effective and smart investments in your own operations are necessary for
genuine organizational growth.
4. Keep an eye on emerging
Trends in the nonprofit world change from year
to year, especially as technology continues to advance quickly as in recent
Nonprofits are notoriously behind when it
comes to keeping up with the trends of the age. Therefore, factoring in some of
the emerging trends into your growth strategy will put your organization at an
advantage when it comes to achieving those goals, especially in comparison to
other nonprofits in the space.
are several factors that influence the newest trends in the nonprofit world,
some of which include changes in technology,
federal tax requirements, and general population expectations.
The following are examples of how each of
these factors influenced some 2020 trends in the nonprofit world:
Influencing Factor: Technology – Artificial
intelligence is no longer something of science fiction. It’s now being used to
automate nonprofit administrative tasks, allowing more staff attention to the
mission at hand. DonorSearch’s artificial intelligence guide explains that chatbots and data
processors make it easier for organizations to quickly process information and
respond to constituents in a timely manner.
Influencing Factor: Federal Tax Requirements – Due to the 2019 tax cuts, there are fewer taxpayers who will feel the
positive impact of charitable giving on their deductions. Therefore, some of
your major donors may no longer have as much incentive to give to your
organization. This makes it much more important for your nonprofit to keep the
middle donor in mind and make sure your fundraising sustainability is otherwise
Influencing Factor: General Population Expectations – Communication has changed in recent years, especially on social media.
For a long time, short-form messages were pushed, after all, that’s where the
idea for Twitter came from. However, the expectation for blog and website
content has changed so people now expect complete stories from nonprofits. Well-written long-form content is preferred and expected, especially in
order to receive more shares on social media.
Keeping the latest nonprofit trends in mind
can help your nonprofit ensure your growth strategy is relevant and timely. Be
sure to look up these trends before formatting your plan and consider how
they’ll impact your nonprofit’s audiences.
5. Remember, it’s ok to ask for
Creating a strategic plan is hard. Nonprofits
have so many moving parts and departments that it can seem complicated and
overwhelming to come up with a plan on your own.
to ask for help!
Nonprofit consultants are available to
organizations for a reason. They can bring a new, professional perspective to
your planning sessions. Between your nonprofit’s highly invested staff members
and the objective perspective of the consultant, you’ll be able to craft plan
decisions based on both logic and emotion (as recommended by this article).
When you look for a nonprofit consultant, be
sure to choose one who:
Has worked with similar nonprofits in the past.
This means they should have worked with an organization both similar in mission
and long-term goals.
Specifically works with nonprofit strategic planning. There are all sorts of consultants out there, from fundraising to
software implementation. Be sure to choose the one that fits your most
Is a good fit for your nonprofit. Sometimes
nonprofit consultants and the organization may not mesh. That’s no one’s fault.
But in order to get the most from your experience with the consultant, you need
to work with one who fits in with your team.
If you think your nonprofit would benefit from
working with a consultant to build out your strategic growth plan, get started
researching potential partners with Bloomerang’s recommended consultants.
Almost every nonprofit plans on growing in the coming year. However, not every organization will achieve that growth. Make sure you’re prepared with a strategy to grow and expand that incorporates all of these tips. Good luck!
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.
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