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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Research and recommendations for effective, day-to-day nonprofit practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

One of the core problems that many nonprofits face is that although we work to serve or protect people or resources that are often called “priceless,” this failure to monetize our causes has the ironic effect of rendering them valueless. Certain sustainability and environmental business stakeholders are now taking the step of monetizing to try to force corporate leaders to manage natural resources more effectively.

A close examination of these tactics reveals several strategies that other nonprofits can use to monetize the work they do every day and add value to their time and output in corporate terms. Assigning value to nonprofit work in this way isn't just good for business; it's great for the vulnerable people and resources that nonprofits work to protect and serves the greater public interest, too.

Tying your cause to the cost of running other businesses

Sustainability advocates are now starting to have success showing corporate leaders just how costly it is to run a business without green, environmentally friendly practices in place. For example, while many businesses have resisted building more energy efficient buildings, it's now clear that doing so reduces their costs over time. This kind of investment in sustainability pays off, especially for big businesses.

But how does this work for other nonprofit messaging? That depends on the…

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The bottom line may not be the driving goal behind nonprofit work, but, let’s face it, we all need money. Except for the lucky few organizations with large endowments or patrons with deep pockets, finding new funding sources and asking for money are key functions of charitable and advocacy organizations. This means every proposal or appeal you write has a lot of competition. The good part is, there are a few things you can do to make sure your proposal stands out from the pack. Here are a few principles that can help you show your cause merits investment:

Know your audience and speak their language

The first and most important thing is to understand who you’re talking to. The pitch you use to a large foundation likely isn’t the same that you’d send in an individual email appeal to an interested supporter or make in-person to a major donor. Before you even start your proposal, do some research on the potential investor. You want to understand their goals, constraints and processes so your proposal can match their needs and meet their expectations. You may not think about your work in terms of return on investment, but often people want to see not just what their money is buying, but how far it’s stretched. The more you can talk about your work in the potential funder’s framework, the better chance you have to connect with them.

This applies to how you use your language too. Like all fields, there’s a lot of jargon in…

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A nonprofit organization, much like a for-profit company, is only as strong as its leadership. Creating a thriving nonprofit sector that is fueled by innovation requires developing and retaining the best leaders. Businesses spent an estimated $12 billion in leadership development in 2011. The social sector spent $400 million, just .03% of the sector's $1.5 trillion total annual spending (Kapila, 2014). Businesses spend $120 per employee per year on leadership development, while the social sector spends just $29 (Callanan, 2014). From a funding standpoint, foundation support for leadership development was less than 1 percent of overall giving from 1992 to 2011 (Hirschfield, 2014).

Inadequate investment in leadership development has extensive adverse impacts, namely the loss of talent to other organizations and eventually other sectors. The need for nonprofit leaders has grown dramatically, not only due to growth but also because senior staff are leaving their organizations. According to a 2015 study by The Bridgespan Group, one in four C-suite leaders left their position in the last two years and nearly as many planned to do so in the next two years. Based on these projections, the nonprofit sector would need to replace the equivalent of every executive leader over the next eight years. From a purely financial standpoint, this is an exceedingly expensive problem.

Additionally, the costs in productivity are numerous and create a burden on the…

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Let’s face it; every day we use our smartphones and mobile technology to get through daily and simple tasks, from finding information, to exercise, to learning new languages, even finding the nearest grocery store. The majority of mobile application software we use today has been “gamified,” and the same ideas are starting to enter the social sector.

Global 2000 businesses have recognized gamification as a powerful tool to engage consumers and motivate them to purchase more products. Yet not all organizations in the social sector have gained this knowledge, and some continue to fail when integrating gamification into their operations.

In some cases, fundraisers become casino nights or raffles drive donors to purchase family vacations for two to three times more than their standard price, all just to support a charity. Fundraising is a way that gamification can be utilized, but it’s not the bottom line for the social sector.  When thinking about gamification, nonprofits have to start thinking outside of the box if they truly want to engage the masses into more positive social behaviors.

Simple tasks that would normally cost a nonprofit time and money can be delegated through one mobile application and can create a friendly environment for the user. Pop-up messages as reminders, rewarding users for their engagement, badges, progress bars, and even weekly challenges drive a little competition to keep users on their toes. When a…

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Every marketer understands the challenge of competing for attention among a sea of content with limited resources. The problem is even more acute for nonprofits, which typically experience stricter budgets and more mission-related limits on what they can do when they market.

Nevertheless, great marketing is possible for nonprofits. These are techniques even smaller organizations can implement every day to improve their marketing efforts, see more impressive results, and gain even more loyalty from their communities.

Partner with your community

Influencer marketing is the latest craze in marketing, for good reason. It means getting organic, word-of-mouth buzz about products from people who others listen to. It's also shockingly economical and far more effective than traditional marketing techniques. In the nonprofit context, this means reaching out to members of your community.

Create, maintain, and remind about your nonprofit's value

Every nonprofit needs to sign new people up for the email list, and entice new people to join the community. Each organization also needs to keep community members loyal and active. The way we can do this is the same way traditional marketers do it: by creating value that attracts people, making sure we maintain it, and reminding community members about how much value we're offering.

If you want people to sign up for…

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ASU Lodestar Center Blog