Why “But we’re a nonprofit” is a lazy excuse

nonprofit-minute-moviesWe’ve all heard it. We can’t run this campaign/do social media/talk to the media/pay competitive salaries/insert another task because we’re a nonprofit organization.

Nonprofit organizations do some amazing work and help a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against nonprofits. I’ve worked for and with many (some were volunteer roles). I just feel that many have a chip on their shoulder that stops them from achieving their goals.

What is a nonprofit organization?

Merriam-Webster defines a nonprofit organization as one whose aims are other than making a profit. It’s often a social good or charity, but it needn’t be. It just means that surplus revenue is used back in the organization instead of being paid to the owners or shareholders. Some nonprofits are eligible for tax breaks based on their mission, but charities are a sub-category of nonprofit. A few years ago I heard it described brilliantly at an IABC conference, “We’re a nonprofit, not a charity. We don’t give our services away for free.”

Let’s look at a few more features.

Nonprofits SMBs 
Volume  1.41 million 27.9 million
 Revenue Avg $1.6 million Avg $3.6 million
 Revenue Sources 47.5% from fees for services and goods from private sources Sales
 Revenue Growth 3.5% 6.5%
 Social Focus Most organizations A growing number

Apologies for being so US-centric with the definitions and figures here. Most of the readers are in the US and it’s now my home (sorry, Australia). I also used small and medium business data because comparing nonprofits to a conglomerate like Coca-Cola is a little unfair. References are below.

But the point is made. There’s little difference between a nonprofit and corporate organization. So why should you say you can’t do something because you’re a nonprofit? Not on brand, or not a current focus – definitely. But not because you’re a nonprofit. After all, can you name any organization with an unlimited budget? Even working on a Microsoft contract, we had to justify our spend.

What Can Nonprofit Organizations Do?

Look Around You For Inspiration
Great marketing and communications occur in all sectors and organizations. If you see a great campaign, look at what aspects you can implement for yourself. You may not be able to offer the prizes they have, or put the hours into it, but your audience is different, so it doesn’t matter. Look at ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge. It was a small, clever campaign that took off and raised $41.8 million. Tutorials are the same. Facebook just released their new Nonprofits on Facebook training series. It’s the same information that’s in their other training series but with nonprofit terminology.

Recruit from Everywhere
The candidate has great marketing experience, but not specific to your organization? Give them a chance. They can learn what’s needed and you’ll get a different perspective from what you’ve always had. But that does mean paying standard salaries. And that’s the next point.

nonprofit-eventPay for Results
Quality costs money – but it also brings in money. Passion for your organization is good, but imagine how much you can achieve with the right skills. The best employees have a choice of workplaces, so make yours worth coming to. It’s the difference between an average organization and amazing outcomes.

Focus on Your Goals and Audience
What is your organization trying to do? Who is your audience? If you center these in all your campaigns, who cares where your campaign inspiration comes from.

What do you think? am I asking too much? Is “But we’re a nonprofit” a valid excuse?

References

The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2015

The Entrepreneur

Why Small Businesses are Better Off Now

Small Business Trends

Nonprofit Quick Facts

Scope of the Sector

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