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Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Strong infrastructure in nonprofits is incredibly important to the health and success of every organization. For organizations that rely largely on the generosity of private donors, foundation and grants, the dance between operating and program costs becomes complicated and intricate. A poll of the general public done by Grey Matter Research and Consulting found that 61 percent of adults surveyed felt that charities should only spend between 10 and 29 cents of every dollar on overhead. That number is alarmingly low. In order to continue to operate at maximum efficiency and attract top talent to the industry, nonprofits must create a plan of action for educating donors and appealing to their intrinsic motivations to gain more support for infrastructure.
First, let’s talk about the ins and outs of infrastructure. In addition to being a bit hard to pronounce, infrastructure involves facilities, staff, training, software, auditing, education, consulting and other such business operations. These essential components to the daily lives of nonprofits help to make up a sizeable portion of the American economy, communities and ecosystems. The hope of a growing organization with a strong infrastructure would be to more effectively execute their mission.
The challenge for nonprofit directors, board members and CEOs is to help donors understand the importance of infrastructure and the associated costs. Nonprofits must be willing to take small risks and employ a creative approach in order to change the minds of donors who expect unrealistically low overhead costs. After all, one cannot expect to change the results of their efforts without first changing their methods. Below are a couple of reasonable ways you can take action to help donors understand the importance of infrastructure.
Educate Your Donors
Fundraising can cost far more money and precious resources than they are worth, and training on the best practices for fundraising is minimal. Nonprofit executives should be seizing the opportunity to embrace alternative fundraising methods and designing the events to be both educational and entertaining for donors. Expecting donors to support raising funds for infrastructure without being educated about the significance is unrealistic. Therefore, inviting donors to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization can also be a powerful fundraising tool.
Consider for example an open-house style event with different activities and stations set up for donors, their families and community members. Organizers may choose to take advantage of hosting potential and current donors in the space where they work by showcasing both the best things about the space and those which need improvement. Have frank conversations with supporters about the needs of the organization beyond programming, and show them tangible examples of what you are trying to explain. Donors may be more receptive to donating their hard-earned money to go towards infrastructure if they see how their dollars will directly affect programming and beneficiaries.
Make a Plan
Long-term planning for nonprofits can be a daunting task, but it can be extremely beneficial in gaining support for infrastructure. Researchers at the Monitor Institute suggest that the traditional ways of strategic and long-term planning are becoming less and less viable in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world; in contrast, they are continuing to research and implement a new kind of planning which they call “adaptive strategy,” utilizing the easily accessible amount of data and a more evenly delegated structure of employees.
An adaptive strategy is made to embrace the fast-paced nature of today’s workforce, both in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. It changes the focus from the individual to the collective, teaches administrators to analyze the data and take more reasonable risks as a result of the information analyzed. This type of strategy requires greater flexibility at all levels of an organization, from the board of directors to the part-time interns. From a perspective of long-term planning, delegating tasks and empowering all employees to be leaders in their current positions creates a more evenly-balanced work environment, allowing for more avenues of discussion and bringing more ideas to the table. Sustainability and longevity are very attractive concepts for investors in the corporate world, and nonprofits should consider this approach when convincing donors of the importance of infrastructure.
Nonprofits, charities, foundations and religious organizations are an incredibly important part of the culture and economy in the United States. Leaders in the industry must begin to value their own importance not only in the world of charity, but in the world of business. Placing value on fairly paying employees, keeping updated equipment and software and maintaining a safe and effective workspace has the potential to change the way an organization operates.
There are many ways to approach this kind of change, but everything must originate from inside the industry. Fundraising in unique ways and investing in a long-term plan for success are opportunities for nonprofits to show funders that they are willing to change, but they will need some help. By first changing their own behavior, leaders in the industry can then focus on changing the expectations of funders, thus increasing monetary support for infrastructure.
Katy Dennis-Bishop is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Dennis-Bishop is currently working in human resources in the for-profit sector, while consulting and grant writing for a nonprofit in her spare time. She hopes to bring her passion for employee advocacy to the nonprofit industry, particularly in the fine arts subsector. Katy currently lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two dogs, Cruzer and Ranger.