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The Changing Non-Profit Landscape

As organizations, non-profits seek to change the world for the better, but in order to do the most good, it is important to understand how times have changed and how those changes can spell trouble or success for your cause.

People come to Keenly Interactive for a variety of reasons. The specifics may vary, but most often it’s to find a different way to tell their story. “I’ve started a non-profit and it seems to difficult to raise money because there are so many people out there competing for the same funds. How can I gain an edge?”

Let’s rewind the clock a bit… 10-20 years ago, the barriers for starting a non-profit were a lot higher and success stories were especially unique. There was limited technology and few avenues for exposure or publicity. Small groups had to find a way to partner with the bigger donors, piggybacking with other small ministries, churches, advocacy and social groups on initiatives they all cared about and sharing in their success. By the time an event was organized, it wasn’t always about who should get the credit… everyone just showed up and got it done.

Fast forward to today… just about anyone can start a cause-based organization with little more than hope and an internet connection. The problem? Everyone wants to stand out, to build brand autonomy and make sure their organization gets the credit. After all, sharing the credit means you might not stand out… and worse, you might lose donors to similar organizations. So, individual organizations labor separately, trying to solve issues but competing for a relatively finite pool of dollars. Essentially, they’re stealing donors from one another and calling it a fundraiser.

The beauty of today’s flourishing technology is that we have the ability to have more potential impact than at any other time in human history… but much of the good that can be done becomes lost in the fray of many small organizations scrambling for cash like kids in the aftermath of a burst piñata at a backyard birthday party.

I believe the answer to this challenge is found both in a collective way of thinking but also in a collaborative way of working. Several years ago I developed something called the Impact Model. Initially, I used this model to create a highly collaborative approach to building ministry teams in a church I was working in. Over the past decade, it has been used by multiple non-profit organizations, including national ministry associations and various churches. Below are the five areas that we used in our model. These are only the overview paragraphs, but it should be enough to get you thinking about things a little differently.

Innovation isn’t just being creative, it’s being purposefully inventive enough to create an entirely new solution to a problem. It’s also not a gimmick. It needs to be meaningful. We knew a man who invented a plow that allowed a single person to plant a field by themselves. He gifted his invention to the country of India and revolutionized agriculture in that country. Individuals are often good at innovative solutions, while fresh solutions sometimes crumble beneath the weight of organizations with multiple cooks in the kitchen. At Keenly, we help organizations grow their capacity to innovate solutions for the problems they seek to solve.

In most non-profits, the bulk of work responsibility often rests on the shoulders of the Executive Director and Core Leadership. These individuals serve directly and become the ones literally doing the work. While it’s great for founders and leaders to get their hands dirty, sometimes it’s to the detriment of the rest of the team who hasn’t been trained how to do the work, as well. Mentoring means taking your heart of service and developing it in others. By reaching a hand out to train the next person, an organization grows their capacity to serve the need they seek to meet.

Looking back to the more “pre-tech” days of non-profit operation, partnerships give organizations big and small the opportunity to reach out to a sister organization or donor to create partnerships, and even friendships, with others who feel the same way and care about the same things as you. We have seen exponential good come from the willingness of multiple organizations finding their strengths and melding them together to do bigger and better things together.

This one is pretty straight forward. Every organization, big or small, needs operational administrative support to keep all the other pieces moving in the same direction. It may be as simple as clarifying job descriptions and setting up a clear chain of command, but it’s the little nuts and bolts that keep the big train steadily chugging down the tracks.

Many groups we work with associate communication with the external world – social media, web, mail campaigns…but it’s crucial to share what’s happening both inside and outside the organization. We’ve found that a very high percentage of growing non-profits struggle with their ability to communicate with their donor base, internal personnel and with those they’re trying to help. When you’re communicating effectively, you can share what you’re doing well, who your working with, highlight relationships and introduce your team to the wider world. It’s a flow of information from within and without.

Technology is more than computers, it’s anything developed, integrated, or produced that allows functionality to help others and to aid in effective interactions. It could be technology to directly serve the cause, or the conduit for sharing communication. Technology can also be a mechanism or system that’s created to facilitate a need or process.

There are probably many more categories, but these five are the key areas we focus on. Take some time to evaluate how you are doing in these areas. We would be happy to talk you through each step if you’d like.

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