Every year, I anxiously wait for the Chronicle of Philanthropy 400 to see “who’s on top” in terms of the largest nonprofits. It’s fascinating reading. And yes, I enjoy seeing what young upstarts are nipping at the heels of the established leaders.
But as much as I enjoy reading about the big nonprofits raising millions — and even more than a billion — of dollars, I get even more excited when I hear about smaller nonprofits that have great success in fundraising because they refuse to believe they are too small to pull it off.
How do smaller nonprofits compete — and even beat? Following are four ways (with four more to come next week).
1. It’s personal
When you’re printing the letters yourself, then folding them and sticking them in the envelope, you can make it look like a real person actually mailed the letter — because one did! Smaller nonprofits use closed-face envelopes, colorful commemorative stamps and a handwritten P.S. They pick up the phone to respond to the question a donor wrote on the reply card. It’s high-touch, with nary a glimpse of “institutional” to be found.
2. It’s understood
When you have a single focus or work in a small geographic area, donors have a better chance of understanding what it is you do. You aren’t introducing a new subject in every letter or newsletter; you’re taking the time to give your partners a full view of your project and the difference it makes. You’re also reporting back to your donors instead of quickly moving on to the next big thing. You may have only a single focus, but you’re constantly showing your donors how you’re the best at accomplishing that one thing.
3. It’s challenging
Smaller organizations can take advantage of the lift they get in direct mail from a challenge grant because they don’t need as big a grant to extend the challenge to the entire list. Perhaps the board can go together to fund a challenge grant, or a smaller grant from a foundation can be the source. Your donors get the joy of seeing their dollars double (or even triple), the donors responsible for the challenge get the satisfaction of knowing they are helping your nonprofit beyond the gift itself, and you get your projects funded.
4. It’s relational
Smaller nonprofits tend to really know their major donors and consider them friends. Major donors feel a true connection, not only to the organization and its mission, but also to the staff. They exchange hand-signed greeting cards at the holidays or on birthdays. Staff at the nonprofit knows the names of the donors’ grandchildren, and donors know more than just the current major-donor officer assigned to their “cases.” When there’s a need, it’s one real friend asking another for a hand. And the relationship works because if things don’t go just right, there’s honest communication and a sincere apology.
Yes, there are challenges when your nonprofit is small. But that’s nothing to apologize about. Instead focus on these opportunities to do things the “big guys” may only dream of, and you’ll excel and grow your organization’s mission.
Originally published in Nonprofit Pro.