The first challenge every nonprofit has to overcome

You’ve rallied around a cause with others. Be it preserving the environment, advocating for human rights, or an association around a collective interest or profession.

And you have clearly defined your mission and know how to communicate it. Great!

But this is where the first challenge comes in quick.

You’ll end up going nowhere fast if you can’t turn a profit, or in nonprofit terms: engaging in revenue-generating activities to reach financial sustainability to deliver your programs.

It’s easy to put off this area and think money will start coming in because you’ve announced. But a “Build it and they will come” is not a strategy. It’s wishful thinking. And one from a famous Kevin Costner “Field of Dreams” movie so that should provide a clue as to its efficacy in the real-world.

So how do you start off right?

  • Find similar organizations that aren’t actually “competing” with you. Talk with their Executive Director and leadership and discover their revenue stream breakdown. Learning from their experiences will avoid the common mistakes.
  • “Worker bee” board members. Your board makeup you begin with is not the same as it would be at your next evolution of organizational growth, and that’s fine! A few of them will need to be the “engine” and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. That’s how you get momentum and off the ground.
  • Diversifying revenue streams. Plan an annual conference to spark interest and initial engagement to build your core. Seek large donors who strongly believe in your mission. In the early days, it’s less realistic to get a grant and there’s always the long delay thru the approval process regardless.

Here’s the bottom line:

How you start your nonprofit and the people that make it up are going to be different in the beginning. At the start, take it slow, get the basics right. Focus on achievable goals. Build your portfolio of success to attract potential donors down the line.

You’re not going to get to that idealist place overnight with grandiose plans, but it can end or fizz out if you don’t have the human resources, a realistic budget and development plan in place.

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– Tara DeSisto, Development Director
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