How does a small nonprofit compete with the likes of St. Jude, Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society when it comes to capturing the hearts and wallets of consumers and businesses? This question was presented to me when I recently met with a lean-staffed, newly-formed nonprofit. The organization’s focus is a relatively unknown, but widely-affecting disease. In desperate need of funding to help find treatments, a cure and support for families, both this nonprofit and the disease itself struggle to achieve relevancy in the massive world of “cause.”
With limited staff and resources, small nonprofits fight what may seem an unfair battle against much bigger, well-known and well-oiled machines for fundraising dollars. Today, consumers are bombarded with causes, nonprofits and call-to-actions on a daily basis. No matter how compelling and important an organization’s mission, it can be a Sisyphean task to get attention and rally supporters.
But even with advantages seeming few and far between, these David-like nonprofits do have assets to leverage. It’s simply a case of uncovering those resources and setting realistic goals. As I counseled this particular nonprofit: grow at a rate appropriate to your organization. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a small nonprofit will not become, say, the American Heart Association overnight. Take a good look at what you can do today, and plan for manageable growth in the future.
The Five Keys to Small Nonprofit Success
1. Network far and wide – Research and identify personal contacts who are in leadership roles at companies and can help you secure introductory meetings with potential partners. Better yet, find influential people with a personal tie to the cause, whether it’s an athlete, government official or Hollywood star – they can leverage their influence and help tell your story.
2. Give your cause a personality – Communicate your mission and call-to-action via the people who are living it. Identify a core group of “spokespeople” and advocates who can tell your story in a compelling way. Consider bringing them to meetings with potential partners and arm them with tools and support to help spread your organization’s message.
3. Find the news hook – Look for opportunities to tie your cause into timely trends and headlines in the news. Be creative, look at science journals, pop culture and government relations. Always keep an eye out for ways to make your cause relevant to new audiences.
4. Be social – The beauty of social media is it’s free – and is also incredibly effective. Facebook, Twitter and other social channels can be great awareness vehicles, and when done right, you can foster a passionate community of supporters. Just remember to know your audience and focus your efforts. For example, if your cause is relevant to moms, go after the ever-growing base of mommy bloggers and ask your contacts to spread your message to girlfriends, moms, sisters and other women via their own networks.
5. Remember your roots – Many times nonprofits focus so much on scoring their first “big” partners that they lose sight of opportunities in their own backyard. Do your homework and find out which companies are headquartered locally, or smaller, local companies that may be relevant for your cause. And remember to use the real-life stories and people – potential partners will be more likely to open their doors to you if there is a compelling local story.
-Tara Olivier, Director, Social Impact