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Lessons on How to Make Your Non-profit Successful

Lessons on How to Make Your Non-profit Successful

April 25, 2011

I was invited earlier last week to serve as a panelist for the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce’s Business Empowerment Networking Series (BENS) “Mission Possible: How to Make Your Non-profit Successful.” The keynote speakers were Norman Wedderbrun, President & CEO of Make a Wish Foundation of South Florida; Javier A. Soto, President & CEO of The Miami Foundation; and Delores Dunn, President & CEO of Center for Family and Child Enrichment, Inc.

The latter part of the event included Shark Tank 1.0 presented by the Chamber’s Young Professionals Network (YPN). As part of the Shark Tank 1.0, five individuals with an interest in starting a non-profit organization were given an opportunity to pitch their concept before a panel of experts in the fields of marketing, finance, legal, and business development in exchange for constructive criticism, expert guidance, and a chance at a prize package worth $2,500 in consultation. Of course, I provided the marketing expertise among the expert panelists.

The learning session provided start-up and seasoned non-profits alike actionable strategies to grow and develop a sustainable non-profit. The truth is that while non-profits serve a greater good, many are ran as if it’s a sin to grow financially and in size. Often times I find that non-profits dismiss the fact that they are to have the elements of a for-profit business in order to be sustainable. These same elements- marketing, financial planning, visioning, operational strategy, and ROI- ultimately determine whether or not the non-profit will be sustainable enough to continue serving its greater good.

Key takeaways of the learning session:

  1. Branding. Putting the brand secondary to the non-profit’s overall strategy runs the risk of losing your audience. Just like in the for-profit world, competition among non-profits is fierce and the slices in the pie are far and few. Only smart brands win.
  2. Fundraising. Similar to conventional wisdom that says that an investor should have a well diversified financial portfolio, so should non-profits as it relates to fundraising. A well diversified fundraising portfolio spreads any slumps in fundraising across a diverse set of revenue streams so that the bottom line in fundraising goals are not effected significantly. Everything from special events, grants, individual giving, cause marketing programs, and the likes represent a well diversified fundraising portfolio. Unfortunately, many non-profits primarily depend on grants for a large chunk of funds.
  3. Visioning & Planning. Market needs often change, and the long-range vision should be flexible enough so that it remains fresh and relevant. The great idea you had five years ago may not be as fresh today. So what’s next?
  4. Board Development. Diversify board talent so that the non-profit can leverage the resources, relationships, and skills that board members bring to the organization. Not all board members should be selected based on their ability to fulfill fundraising goals. A board member with strategic marketing and PR skills will help the non-profit in the areas of visibility and awareness. A CPA as a board member helps the organization remain fiscally conservative. Also, board members require greater engagement and want their involvement to be meaningful and impactful. Don’t just leave them to sit on the board and not serve.

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