I was recently meeting with a nonprofit that I hadn’t worked with before to learn more about what their organization does. We discussed their growth over the past few years due to their powerful development portfolio, and how their organization takes a fairly unique approach to implementing its fundraising programs. Both of which are exciting topics in my world! But as engaging as it all was, I kept waiting for the staff in the room to dig into the “so what." I wanted to hear them articulate how their well-funded, unique programs help them achieve their specific goals around improving the communities they serve. I waited and waited, but the so what never came.
Some organizations aren’t quick to talk about how their funding, efforts, and activities connect back to their impact because they don’t know – they actually can’t connect the dots between how their work and money raised link back to their mission. That is a real problem for social impact, but it’s the extreme example. More often, organizations don’t talk about their impact because they simply haven’t developed that muscle. That is, they’re not trained to do so in what is otherwise a “donor-centric” nonprofit landscape.
A donor-centric approach has come to serve as shorthand for a host of things, but at its core it is the tendency for nonprofits to prioritize building relationships with their donors above all else. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s critical and necessary. Experience has shown many of us that it’s awfully difficult to invest in relationships with donors if you don’t prioritize thanking them, communicating regularly in an individualized way, and being forthcoming about the programs that their support makes possible. Yet it’s not the only tenant that should be guiding your organization’s approach.
In addition to being donor-centric, in the social good sector, we need organizations to be impact-centric too. In other words, we need to keep the why we do this work and why our organization exists at the top of our minds. It means that we shouldn’t be able to fathom introducing our organization or program to someone without laddering up to our broader goals of leaving individuals’ lives and communities better than we found them. We shouldn’t dream of wasting an opportunity to demonstrate our impact.
Becoming an impact-centric organization is a purposeful process with small and large steps along the way. As always, choosing where to start can be daunting but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start at all. To get going, there are a few things that you can do this month to get your organization on the impact-centric path.
1. Schedule time for program and non-program staff to talk in-depth about the progress your organization has made toward achieving your mission.
Not all of us in the nonprofit sector are in the field or in front of the people and communities we serve every day. As a result, there’s sometimes a tendency for “back of the house” staff members to focus on their piece of the puzzle rather than the entire puzzle itself. You can bring everyone in your organization up to the mission level by setting aside the time and brain space to go there together. Administrative assistants, development directors, and accountants – everyone on the team belongs in a seat at the mission table.
2. Invite someone your organization has helped to visit your office, share their story, and be celebrated.
How much more connected to your mission would you feel if every month you and your co-workers recognized someone you serve? No matter how much you believe in the impact your organization seeks to create, it’s hard to feel connected to it every day if that connection isn’t tangible. Honoring someone who appreciates the support they have been given, and who your organization is fortunate enough to work with, is the best kind of win-win.
Whether it’s a potluck ice cream social, an all-office chili cook-off, or a birthday celebration, there are a lot of meaningful ways to celebrate delivering on your mission with the brave, dynamic people you help.3. Find ways to break down the silos between program and non-program staff.
For example, think about your marketing and development meetings. Who in the room consistently reminds everyone about the greater impact your organization can make by achieving your KPIs or keeps you honest about whether your upcoming campaign speaks authentically to the experiences of the people you serve? Program staff often have that perspective to contribute. Inversely, during program conversations is there someone in the discussion who keeps the group honest about how programs align with your organization’s priorities? Those are typically places where marketing and development staff can help.
As this nonprofit trend and the sector continue to evolve, the importance of being donor-centric isn’t going to disappear – and it shouldn’t. But a focus on donors can’t be your organization’s only commitment. An equally important element lies in impact. We each have a role to play in holding ourselves and our organizations accountable for working toward our missions.
After all, can you imagine how thrilled your prospective donors would be if you could show that you’re not only committed to building relationships with them, but you’re also unwavering in your promise to deliberately keep impact at the forefront of everything that you do? We think that is precisely the type of organization supporters are seeking, and the kind of organization that the social good sector deserves.
Strong donor relationships and impact generation come from aligned leadership, effective strategies, and passionate staff. Learn how to improve each of these areas in our e-book "The Seven Success Factors". Download your free copy below!