I had an interesting discussion the other day regarding the word “charity” and it’s appropriateness: some people use “nonprofit organization” and “charity” interchangeably, while others associate charity with something more like hand-outs and pity parties. They get insulted when others refer to their nonprofit as a “charity,” because they don’t like what the word implies. While I totally understand that viewpoint, it got me thinking about whether this simple game of nomenclature can affect a nonprofit’s success.
I feel strongly that nonprofits should be run like a business rather than a charity (whatever that means…). In other words, if you’re not taking steps to clearly define the mission of your organization and promote its cause, you may find yourself without enough capital to continue.
Below are 5 lessons each nonprofit should be taking from for-profit businesses.
- Differentiate yourself from similar organizations: A quick GuideStar search for “lupus” returned 578 results. Make sure your donors know what makes your organization different, whether it be your lower overhead costs or the fact that x% of donations are sent directly to those in need.
- Appearance matters: Just as you probably wouldn’t buy a book from a website that looked unprofessional, donors may be hesitant to give money through your website if looks like something you put together in a few hours. Ask around for web developers interested in donating their skills or pay for a professional layout that can be considered a worthwhile investment.
- Value your customers (donors): People that donate to your nonprofit chose yours for a reason, and your job is to keep them coming back. Just as your organization itself should be different, make sure your donors know that you understand they have options and you appreciate their choosing your cause.
- Invest in good people: Due to budget restrictions, it can be difficult for a nonprofit to compete for valuable employees. If someone would be a great fit for your organization but is being lured elsewhere, look around for other benefits your organization can provide. Consider vacation time, flexible schedules, etc.; not all benefits have to be monetary.
- Don’t neglect marketing: Remember that spending money to promote yourself is crucial in order to gain a larger following and continue with your mission. This includes advertising and even PR.
So, while what you call your nonprofit organization may not matter, be careful not to get caught running yourself out of business.