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How to Change Outdated Thinking to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Impact

You Need To Change Outdated Thinking To Improve Your Nonprofit’s Impact

If “major nonprofit ambitions” was a band, you would be both the lead singer and the manager. You want a new culture, a new philosophy, and the kind of local reputation that makes people stop googling phrases like “nonprofits near me” because they know that you exist. But, as is the case with many nonprofits that want to be agents of high-impact change, there’s a planet-sized barrier that’s preventing you from reaching the next level:

No, not money. Although extra funding is always nice. It’s that the culture of your nonprofit organization is in desperate need of a makeover.

Maybe your organization has had a recent leadership change. Or maybe you’ve been quietly having your “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” moment. But regardless, it’s time to do some organizational rethinking.

So how do you go from “What does nonprofit mean in today’s context?” to “We’ve changed the way we think and now we’re leaders in our field?”

We’re about to break down the logistics of retooling the inner workings of a nonprofit organization. Keep reading to learn more about how you can modernize your organizational philosophy!

Table of Contents

Figuring Out Where You Want to Go

Let’s do a thought experiment. You’ve stumbled upon Aladdin’s lamp and because the genie supports your cause, all you have to do is visualize your nonprofit organization’s final form in a world where everything has gone your way.
Here are two questions you’ll need answers to as you start to articulate your vision:

1. Who Are You Trying to Serve?

In the business world, marketing teams talk all the time about their “target demographics” and “buyer personas”. Although your organization isn’t necessarily selling anything, you do likely have a population in need that you can uniquely serve well.

To avoid having an overly broad target audience, you’ll want to have clarity here. After all, what is a nonprofit if it isn’t able to identify the needs of the community at large?

Here’s an example of what we’re talking about:

Imagine you’re running a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping immigrants settle into your area. Even though both groups would describe themselves as foreigners, refugees and foreign exchange students will have completely different needs and concerns. And depending on where in the world people are coming from, there may be cultural barriers that vary dramatically from person to person.

If your organization has been spreading itself too thin, it could be because you haven’t been specific enough about who you should be helping.
By sticking to the populations that you’re capable of serving best, you’ll have way more success stories and morale-boosting projects that you can point people to at the end of the year.

2. What is Your Nonprofit Organization Hoping to Accomplish?

You know what we just said about the importance of being specific about who you’re planning to serve? You’ll want to apply the same principles to find an answer to the question, “What is our nonprofit organization trying to do?”.

Here’s why:

There’s having a big-picture understanding of the problems you’re hoping to solve. And then there’s having a specific mission and purpose for your nonprofit organization.

Whether you specialize in mental health, anti-poverty work, or education, the problems that you deal with everyday often have huge, systematic causes.

As such, wanting to eliminate poverty for good may certainly be noble. But making general anti-poverty your mission can quickly start to feel like nailing jello to a wall.

For this reason, you’ll want to focus on the micro-level problems that your organization can DEFINITELY solve with enough resources.

You’ll want this to be challenging but still realistic. And with the “theory of change” approach to nonprofit work gaining momentum every day, your organization may very well need to establish a hypothesis or a guess as to how it will go about meeting its goals.

Setting the Table for Change

Okay. At this point, you’ve done the preliminary planning and mapped out your organization’s future. Now it’s time to start putting the pieces together.

1. Figure Out What Your Organization Needs to Work On

Bringing change to an established nonprofit is like getting fit. You have to do the little things, like counting your calories and putting in time at the gym, to tone up and trim down. In the nonprofit space, it’s all too easy to fall short of your lofty goals.

According to Philanthropy News Digest, for example, nonprofits will often say that they value diversity. But when you actually sit down and analyze the make-up of their staff members, those values often aren’t reflected in hiring decisions.

For your organization, maybe the problem isn’t with your team. Maybe the issue is that you don’t really understand what your target population needs and wants from you

This part may be painful, but it’s important to step back and make an objective assessment of your organization.

2. Consider the Consequences of the Adjustments You're Making

Raise your hand if you’ve seen this plot somewhere before!!

You have a happy-go-lucky character with good intentions. But somehow, while trying to do the right thing, they end up making things worse through a series of insanely unlucky events.

This might make for edge-of-your-seat television when you’re during, say, an early season of Game of Thrones. But when you’re making broad, sweeping changes to your nonprofit, you don’t want to be saying things like, “I didn’t think this was going to happen!”.

Are your donors expecting your organization to run any specific programs? And if changes to your service offerings could result in donor backlash, do you have any alternative means of raising funds?

And then there are your internal best practices. Could skipping a step or two in your process lead to regulatory problems or mistakes?

Any time you’re bringing about sweeping changes, you can expect to have growing pains. But even so, it’s important to avoid having too many if-it-isn’t-the-consequences-of-my-own-actions moments.

Executing the Vision

You’ve laid down the groundwork and you’ve prepared your internal documentation. Congrats! Now it’s time for the part where you take your vision and start rolling it out in real time.

Here are our top tips on pulling this off:

1. Be Intentional About Relaunching Your Brand

When someone gives themselves a makeover or suddenly gains a ton of confidence after an extended absence, it’s not unusual for even close friends and family to be taken aback by the change for a bit.

At first, you may even overhear people saying things like, “I’m not quite sure how to interact with her right now.” or “He’s really changed!”. And depending on what the relationship dynamics were like before, that extended period of awkwardness can last for quite a while.

Here’s why this is important for your nonprofit:

From your social media to your output, people are used to seeing your nonprofit organization a certain way. If you’ve decided to change the fundamental core philosophies that have driven your charity to date, people won’t necessarily know how to respond at first. It takes time to adjust to change.

According to SmallBizGenius, people need to interact with a brand around five to seven times before they’ll start responding to ads with anything more meaningful than, “… And you are?”. And if the changes you’re making extend to your use of social media, you may have to do the work of reintroducing yourself to the community all over again.

2. Have a Holistic Marketing Strategy

Here’s a sobering statistic!

The Nonprofit Times reported in 2019 that just 52 percent of US nonprofits felt confident about their ability to measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. And to make matters worse, the numbers drop by a full 11 percent when you head over to the UK.

Whether you’re recruiting volunteers, searching for donors, or reaching out to the communities you’re looking to serve, it goes without saying that you’ll have to work hard to promote your rebranded organization

From newsletter follow ups to PR runs, you’ll want to make sure that you have measurement mechanisms in place that will allow you to answer questions like, “Is this relaunch working for us?”

We Do High-Impact Web Design for High-Impact Nonprofits

Are you in the process of a major rethink of your nonprofit organization? We can help you design and position your nonprofit website and your digital marketing strategy for maximum impact.

As a nonprofit marketer, you probably have to wear a lot of hats as it is. There are always more tasks that need to be done and people who need your attention. That’s where we come in.

Our team has been in the business of building kick-ass websites since 2001. We’ll give you a stunning site and then we’ll help you promote it. Book your appointment with us today! 

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