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Opinion: 8 ways for nonprofits to remain relevant

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In this fast-paced ever-changing world, the nonprofit landscape can ebb and flow year to year. So how does your nonprofit remain relevant while navigating opportunities and pressures that impact the organization? Here are a few thoughts.

1. Create a strategic plan.
Develop a five-year plan that includes a vision statement, mission statement, core values, goals and action plans. Assign the annual goals and action plans to appropriate personnel and meet regularly to determine progress. Each year, assess results and update the strategic plan as needed. Always revert to your organization’s core values when making important decisions.

2. Develop a strong case for support.
Craft a case for support that is donor-centered and that clearly articulates your organization’s mission and vision for the future. A strong case for support describes why the organization matters and why potential funders should support your cause. It should include a mix of compelling stories as well as data that reinforces the positive impact your organization is making on those you serve. The case for support should be the centerpiece for all your communications.

3. Establish multiple revenue sources.
Create diverse income streams to reduce the risk of becoming overly dependent on one revenue source. Are there opportunities where you could generate fee revenue or acquire new donors? Do you have a method of promoting planned gifts so donors know how to leave bequests to your organization? Are your board members engaged and introducing you to possible supporters? Do you have an advisory council? There are many ways to increase the breadth and depth of your revenue sources.

4. Communicate efficiently and effectively.
Determine who your target audiences should be, and the best ways to communicate with them given their demographic characteristics and messaging preferences. A few possible communication tools might include targeted messages using direct mail, email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and media outlets such as print, radio and television. Storytelling is often a great way to communicate with various audiences how your organization is positively impacting who and what they care about, and why their support is important. When using social media to reach specific audiences, remember that video is usually more effective than written text. Overall, messaging should be concise, consistent and continual.

5. Provide opportunities to see your organization in action.
Donors and possible funders often enjoy seeing first-hand how your nonprofit is changing lives. You can accomplish this in many ways. Perhaps a donor would like to volunteer to assist with an event, to serve on a committee or to work on a specific project or task. When appropriate, you might provide a tour to demonstrate the good your organization is doing. Could you livestream from your program location? Maybe someone you have helped can speak at an event so those in attendance can hear a personal story.

6. Build trust and be transparent.
Keep all stakeholders informed by reporting accurate results and by spending budgeted dollars properly. Celebrate successes and work together to address any concerns.

Always be honest. Always do what is right. Always use donor funding for the purpose in which it was intended.

7. Be aware of trends.
Each year, consider what trends may impact the way you lead your nonprofit. For example, how might the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act impact your organization? Is email still an important communication tool? How can your nonprofit best motivate Gen Xers and millennials to give? An analysis also can be used as a way to assess your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Simply assemble two separate focus groups of diverse stakeholders and ask them to complete a SWOT analysis with you, and then determine common themes and compare them to emerging trends.

8. Say thank you.
It is important to thank donors. When a gift is received, it should quickly be acknowledged and a tax receipt sent to the supporter. Donors also can be thanked when visiting face-to-face or by telephone, text, email, Facebook Messenger, etc. There are many ways to consistently steward new and existing supporters in order to express your appreciation. Just determine what that plan should look like and implement it.

By planning ahead and remaining flexible, your nonprofit can thrive as you adjust to things both in and out of your control.

Tim Siebert is executive director of the Children’s Miracle Network at CoxHealth. He can be reached at tim.siebert@coxhealth.com.

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