A Non-Profit without a Cause

August 06, 2011

Posted in General.

Not every non-profits is trying to cure cancer, feed the hungry, or teach the illiterate to read. There are so many great causes of our time and many great organizations working on them. But there are others, too, which don’t have some great cause. They’re community theatre groups, summer camps, and traveling dinosaur exhibits. They have a mission, but it’s not solving a big world problem. And yet, they still have to pay the bills and can’t pocket any profits.

“Running more like a business”

If you’re housing the homeless, you have to fund your efforts somehow. And you can’t charge your customers – they aren’t likely to afford the service. So you rely on fundraising. No surprise here, right?

What if you can charge for your service? There are plenty of organizations who can and do charge for the value they provide. But where do you draw the line on this? Do you charge as much as possible, bringing in revenue to build up the organization? Or do you charge as little as possible and serve as many people as possible?

With the summer camp, we find ourselves in this situation. We have a base of supporters, but some among that base are questioning our operations. The last several years have been a struggle, and we’ve recovered under sound financial management. But now some people are wondering why they should donate money to us – after all, we look like we’re turning into a healthy business.

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nonanet/143915997/

Success doesn’t stop with survival

For any non-profit organization, our mission isn’t just to exist. It’s to do something – provide an experience, enlighten a mind, etc. We create value. That value is measured in a lot of different ways, and is usually affected by funding.

A theatre group might be limited by the shows they can afford to license or the seats in their performance space. In our case, the camp is very much limited by its facilities. Adding beds means adding cabins, and cabins are expensive. New programs usually means equipment or creating an activity space (like a basketball court).

Growth cost money, and money comes from…

A growing theatre troupe might charge more for tickets so they can afford a bigger venue. Our camp can’t afford to charge much more and stay competitive – so we have to rely on other funding sources. This is where the fundraising comes in. Fortunately, it’s often easier to raise money when you’re not desperate, when you’re not on the brink of collapse. Now that we’re through our toughest times (knock on wood, right?), we are looking at the future. Our programs are filling up and we’re providing record amounts of financial support. We will have to continue to rely on fundraising in order to maintain, to grow, and to thrive.

As an amateur fundraiser, how do I tell this story to our constituents who are questioning why they should continue giving?

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