Running a nonprofit is a career many people stumble into by chance. And that’s especially true of small nonprofits. While there are courses and degrees for people looking to go into nonprofit management, it’s usually a trade that’s learned on your feet. You solve the problem in front of you, then another, and sooner or later you’ve got the hang of it. But, since there’s no guidebook for small nonprofits, it’s easy to fall into making big mistakes with your fundraising. Mistakes that keep you small, keep you stuck being reactionary instead of strategic, and hinder your operations.
Here are the five most common mistakes small nonprofits make, along with how to start fixing them.
1. You’re not making fundraising a priority
Fundraising can feel like a “nice if you have the time for it” kind of endeavor when you’re in the trenches at a small nonprofit. But fundraising is what allows your nonprofit to do the work, keeps your lights on and your bills paid, allows you to create and grow programs and services. Fundraising should be at the center of your operations. But, due to limited resources at small nonprofits, it can take a backseat to putting out fires every day.
Reactionary fundraising is often the result of this. Instead of keeping the coffers full year-round, you fundraise mostly when there is a pressing need. (Do you use a lot of “urgent” and “SOS” type of messaging in your appeals? That’s a good clue you might be stuck in a cycle of reactionary fundraising.)
The first step to course-correcting is reframing fundraising at your organization. Fundraising needs to be a priority. It’s an ongoing, continuous project rather than something you do when you have the time or need the money. (Because, let’s face it, you will never have the time and you will always need the money!)
And then there are a few strategies you can use to build fundraising into your operations:
- Add more funding sources: Consider peer-to-peer fundraising, recurring giving, adding a new method to donate on your organization’s website, getting your board involved.
- Create a recurring giving program: Donors who give on a recurring basis provide a financial cushion for your nonprofit. Getting more recurring donations is a solid strategy to become financially sustainable.
- Get others involved: Your board of directors make a commitment to help fundraise when they join – it’s one of their primary responsibilities. So, ask your board for help. You can also loop in volunteers. You’d be surprised how many people have fundraising, grant-writing, marketing, and other professional experience they can use to help your nonprofit fundraise!
- Start a recurring giving program: Monthly donors make an ongoing financial commitment to your organization, and provide predictable, stable revenue.
2. Your nonprofit’s website is a mess
Your nonprofit’s website is often the first introduction the public has to your work. And, unfortunately, many small nonprofits don’t make a great first impression. Maintaining a website can fall by the wayside when you’re running a small nonprofit. But when the public encounters your website with an outdated design, that’s slow to load and not mobile-friendly, with broken links, and outdated information… well, they turn right around and go somewhere else.
A bad, unmaintained website causes a domino effect. First and foremost, it impacts your ability to serve the public in an effective way. And, secondly, every visitor to your site is a potential supporter and donor. When your website is a mess, you’re pushing people away rather than inviting them in.
Elements of a good nonprofit website
The good news is that there is a formula for creating a good nonprofit website! Your website should include the following:
- About page: This is where you’d explain your mission, your work, your history, and any need-to-know information about your organization.
- Donate button: Your donate button should be in your navigation bar, so it follows users on the site. No matter where they are, they can click to make a donation. Whether this goes to a full donation page or widget is up to you, but this is a key part of your website!
- Contact Us: How can people get in touch with you? List your address, general email address, phone number, and operating hours. If you’re using a contact form, make sure it’s working and test it out on a regular basis!
- Board members/staff: It’s a good idea to have a list of your nonprofit’s key officers and board of directors for transparency.
- Financials: This helps build trust with the public. You don’t have to publish everything, but recent 990s or at the very least an annual report and breakdown of spending are a good start.
- Get involved: How can people get involved? Have readily available information about how to volunteer, how to make in-kind donations, your recurring giving program, link your Amazon Wishlist, and so on.
Fixing your organization’s website doesn’t need to be a big overwhelming project! And it also doesn’t need to be expensive. Here’s how you can fix your website:
- Slowly add missing components: You don’t need to do a full re-design immediately or gut your website if you’re only missing a few key items! Make a spreadsheet of pages/features that need to be updated, and tackle one at a time. (This is a great job for a volunteer with web design experience!)
- Ask for help: Plenty of people would be willing to help your nonprofit! Put out a call for volunteers with web design experience via email or social media.
- Choose a different platform: You don’t need to be a developer or have web design experience to make a great website. A lot of platforms, like WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix, are designed to help anyone make an attractive, easy-to-use website. If your nonprofit has a custom website you can’t maintain on your own, switching to a platform that makes it easy for you to make updates on your own will be worth the effort.
3. You’re not focused on recurring giving
Small nonprofits can get stuck focusing on donor acquisition. It makes sense, right? If you want to grow your nonprofit, you need more donors. Only… that’s not entirely true. If you want to grow your nonprofit, you need a solid base of supporters who provide a dependable, predictable stream of revenue. And those donors are recurring donors.
Donor acquisition is more expensive than donor retention. And you can easily undo your acquisition efforts by failing to retain donors. So, while attracting new donors is important, it’s more important (and more cost and labor-effective) to retain the donors you already have. Getting donors to make a monthly donation and keeping them engaged through a recurring giving program is the best way to grow your nonprofit. (That’s why recurring donors are also called “sustainers.”)
But, unfortunately, small nonprofits can get stuck in a loop of acquiring new donors and then losing them. Which means they end of needing to acquire more, then losing those… and on and on.
Elements of a recurring giving program
Recurring giving programs aren’t as difficult as you might think! All you need is:
- A way for donors to set up a donation that will recurring automatically each month
- Plans to check in with and engage these donors
- A way to recognize and thank your recurring donors
That’s it! And Mightycause has all the tools you need to get started. You can learn more about starting a recurring giving program here.
Start a recurring giving program! You can do a full launch and campaign to get your existing supporters to join, or incorporate it into your next campaign or regularly scheduled fundraising efforts.
4. You’re not investing in your organization’s future
Small nonprofits are usually on the lookout for a deal. And we get it! Resources are limited. But, paradoxically, this thrifty mindset is what can keep your organization small. A collection of free tools to manage your fundraising and donors won’t support your nonprofit’s growth. And the labyrinth of free or dirt-cheap tools that don’t talk to each other and only kind of get the work done creates administrative burden.
But, beyond that, this is a failure to think long-term. By focusing on what works now rather than thinking about what will support and aid your organization’s growth, you’re in the mindset of putting out fires instead of planning and being strategic.
Talk to your board of directors and build a 5-year plan to build a sustainable nonprofit. What tools do you need? Where should you invest? Investing in fundraising staff, a robust volunteer program, and fundraising infrastructure that can support you as you grow are a great place to start.
Mightycause provides affordable fundraising solutions that are built to support your growth. We have two plans available, Essentials and Advanced, that can easily fit into your budget and eliminate the need for single-use tools that don’t talk to each other.
5. You’re sending receipts instead of thanks
People running small nonprofits are busy and it’s easy to spend your days crossing things off the list. Someone made a donation, they got a receipt, and that can be crossed off the list. Right?
But doing the bare minimum to thank donors (and stopping with an emailed receipt) is a symptom of a nonprofit that’s failing to steward donors. And that can indicate that there’s a problem with donor retention.
Acknowledging donors and making them feel genuinely appreciated is key to bringing them back to make another donation. If your nonprofit considers your work done when you’ve sent their receipt, you’re probably losing donors. And that means it’s easier to chase your tail acquiring new donors that end up being lost to attrition.
Nonprofits need to have a continuous, ongoing relationship with their donors in order to grow. The donor relationship isn’t just transactional. It’s something that must be maintained, nurtured, and proactively engaged with. And donors want much more than a receipt. They want to feel like they’re part of your organization, and making a difference with their support.
Here are some easy ways you can start engaging your donors better:
- Create an onboarding plan: How do you welcome your donors into your nonprofit? Whether it’s a series of emails, a welcome packet, a phone call, or a handwritten card, create an onramp into your organization for new donors.
- Use a CRM: Mightycause’s Supporters tool can help you get your donor management on track! We also have a Salesforce integration you can utilize as well, so your options are flexible with Advanced.
- Build gratitude into your operations: For big nonprofit, donor gratitude is a daily practice and built into everything they do. Think about how you can incorporate “because of you” messaging into your normal communications, and build habits of thanking and checking in with your donors.
Download the Nonprofit Fundraising Guide
Get more tips and tricks geared toward small nonprofits with our Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Fundraising!