The Chronicle of Philanthropy 400, listing the top 400 nonprofits in the United States, was released earlier this month. Along with the listing, there are companion articles that talk about fundraising trends across the nation. While much of the content is only free to subscribers, nonsubscribers can download the data for a small fee.
If you’re a small to midsized nonprofit, you might not pay attention to these reports. After all, they focus on groups raising millions — even billions — of dollars.
How can that be relevant to you?
Actually, these reports (and many more that can be accessed at no cost on the Web) can help any nonprofit shape its strategy and sharpen its fundraising efforts. It’s a matter of sorting through data and finding the nuggets that can benefit your professional learning.
You might be small, but you can learn from ‘the big guys’
Target Analytics divides the 80 nonprofits it studies into eight verticals (health, animal welfare, for example). If you fall into one of these verticals, you’ll see trends of what nonprofits doing similar work are experiencing. While you won’t be given specifics by agency, you can measure your own performance against your vertical and use this to help you select the one or two things you want to focus on for the next quarter or year. For example, according to Target Analytics, for environmental groups “reactivation rates rose significantly for the sector in the first half of 2011.” If you’re an environmental group, are your reactivation rates on the rise? If not, what kinds of strategies can you put in place to make this a priority for improvement?
Who’s on top?
The annual listing of the top 400 from the Chronicle of Philanthropy is full of information for those who take the time to explore. The companion articles give specifics in various verticals and often include interviews with nonprofit fundraisers about their strategies. In the listing itself, you can identify nonprofits with similar missions and explore their websites to get ideas that might be applicable to your organization. Larger organizations have several advantages, no doubt, but you might be smaller and more nimble, able to adapt and change more readily. Studying the largest organizations can help you find better ways to differentiate and provide insights to improve your marketing.
Be a donor — be a learner
Seeing who the major players are in your industry can help you select groups to give donations to (yes, your “competitors”) so you can see how they treat their donor files. Look over the receipts you receive. Are there any touches that stand out that you can adapt to your program? Read the direct mail. How are they getting you to open their envelopes? What’s their e-mail frequency? Let your giving lapse on occasion so you can experience the reactivation effort (or lack thereof). You aren’t looking for a template to copy, but you should identify ideas that you can develop in your shop and turn into new strategies (or one you want to avoid) when you see what others are doing.
You do yourself — and your organization — a favor when you take the time to study the enormous treasure that reports like these have. You’ll learn what successful nonprofits are doing to raise funds and possibly identify ideas that can help you grow your program and your own depth of knowledge.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.