Advice for Non-Profit Newbies

October 30, 2011

Posted in General and Management.

This weekend, I was asked to give a brief speech to a group of college students in a nonprofit management program from Indiana State University. They were on a weekend volunteer retreat and I talked to them about my top three pieces of advice for new nonprofiteers.

Raise Your Hand

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Many nonprofits, especially small ones, are stretched terribly thin. Relying on volunteers means they rarely have all the people and expertise to get everything done. They need people who can do marketing, finance, strategic planning, human resources, and especially fundraising – oh boy, do they need help with fundraising. So raise your hand the next time someone says “anyone want to take this on?” and get in there. You’ll gain invaluable experience, you’ll be seen as a leader, and you’ll get opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t get in your regular job.

Related: Giving Up on Altruism

Work with People

The easy approach to fundraising is to fill out grant applications, email companies asking for money, and to host events. Note that I said easy, not effective. These are easy because they’re impersonal, avoiding any situation where you have to expose your fragile ego and hear the word “no.” That’s cowardly.

The harder—but much more effective—route to fundraising is to meet with an individual prospect and make a case why he or she should make a donation. You’re going to be told “no” and you’re going to feel a sense of rejection. But your chances of success are actually much higher. Individuals account for more than 85% of giving in the United States. Grants and corporations go through applications, committees, and interviews. An individual can pull out a checkbook and write you a check for a major gift. Corporations have stockholders. Individuals have a heart you can touch through stories.

Related: Donors Are People Too

Learn How to Motivate

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One reason nonprofits are strapped for volunteer help is that, in most nonprofits boards, most of the work is done by a minority of the board members. You can raise your hand all you want, and you’ll eventually find that you are one of the few people doing all the work. You can’t be effective as an army of one. To be a leader, you have to motivate others to follow.

The best tool for motivation is storytelling. People act on emotion and then rationalize later. Heartstrings control more than your heart. So find good stories that make your point for you. Work hard on becoming a good storyteller so you can captivate and inspire.

Related: 7 Traits That Make Up the Best Board Members

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