Friday, January 7, 2011

Free Advice to Non-Profits: You Ain't Doin' Enough!

     Throughout my career and in my current business (Dirigible) I have worked with a quite a few non-profits. Primarily, performing arts and sports groups, occasionally health-related causes or foundations. I have learned two things in my 10 years of working with non-for-profits.  
     Number One: Most Boards of Directors suck. If your first reaction to this statement is, "Oh, well, we have a great board," I want you to ask yourself two very simple questions. 1) Is each member of the board required to give or get "X" amount of dollars in donations? 2) Are all the board members actively involved in all other fund-raising efforts? If the answer is no to either (it will probably be no to both), your board needs an overhaul. Now! They suck.
     The typical response I get when I explain this to board members is always the same. "But, we volunteer our time to serve on the board. Our time is worth something." I've heard it a thousand times. Guess what? You aren't building a float for the Rose Parade. You aren't volunteering for a bake sale at the local hospital. You aren't handing out water at the local charity's 5K fun run. You are on the board of directors for an organization whose programs and mission depends on your efforts to raise money for and promote the organization in the community. If you can't do it without playing the my-time-is-more-important-than-anyone-else's-card, then don't serve on that board. Yes, you have other duties. Yes, there are other things that a board is responsible for. Yes, you probably have someone on staff who raises money, too. But it is part of your job to raise money. If your non-profit doesn't have money it doesn't exist. Period.
     Okay, I'm done on that subject. For now. But it is a serious issue and an all too common one. From large youth sports organizations down to small community theatre groups, this element of your board is hugely important and sorely neglected. Don't ignore it.
     The REAL purpose of today's rant is second on my "things I've learned" list. Drum roll, please. 
Number Two: You are not doing enough for your sponsors.
     I don't know if you've seen a newspaper the last couple of years, but the economy is kinda, how shall I put this nicely, messed up. If you are doing the same thing for your sponsors that you did last year and the year before -- you are going to loose them.
     There was a time when sponsors donated to organizations because they wanted to help out the cause and maybe get a little tax deduction. We'll give you 100 bucks and you put a business card size ad in the program. There we're a sponsor! Those days are over. The tax deduction ain't enough. You simply MUST provide some sort of marketing value through the sponsorship. There is too much competition for sponsorship dollars on every level. From the local community choir to the youth soccer league your kid plays in, every non-profit simply MUST get more creative in how they attract sponsors and how they treat them once they get their money. The days of making a phone call once a year to a local business and holding out your hand to collect the check? Over. An ad in the program and a link on your website IS NOT ENOUGH no matter how awesome you think your organization is.
     First thing you have to do is create levels of sponsorship. "Gold," Silver," "Bronze," whatever. Try to be inventive and have the levels be something related to the organization. Each level will have a variety of things the sponsor gets for donating at that level. This is called your sponsorship inventory. Put a price to each level and don't waiver. Your sponsors will want everything you've got, but they only get what they pay for. Plus, if one sponsor finds out that they paid more for a certain level than another sponsor did, you have trouble on your hands.
     Now, you may be thinking, "Wayne, we don't have any inventory. All we do is have a couple concerts every year." (Or, you are a youth sports team and all you do is play eight or 10 games per season.) I'm telling you right now, you have more than you think and there is even more you can create in order to have more things to sell. You may have tickets, programs, flyers, newsletters, press releases, stationery, business cards, t-shirts, a website, or social network sites that are all great places for sponsor recognition. Anything you print something on can be a place a sponsor might like exposure, whether it's a ticket or a program or hotel key card. If you do an interview with local TV or newspapers MENTION THE SPONSORS. If you send out a press release, put a small tag about your sponsors in the boilerplate (the About Us section).If you do any fund-raising events (I mean ANY.  Even a bake sale!) Invite your sponsors to have a presence either with a table (to hand out info) or to actually participate in the event. Whatever you are doing now -- do more. It is getting harder and harder out there to raise cash and your non-profit is not the only good cause in town.
     Final thing: Thank your sponsors. Not just the person who wrote the check, but the people who work for the person who wrote the check. Say it in a letter when the sponsor first comes on board, say it in person whenever you see people involved with the sponsor. While this may sound silly, but make sure your BOARD OF DIRECTORS knows who the sponsors are so THEY can thank them and talk about the sponsors in their circles. You do all this and your sponsors will continue to see the value in supporting YOU. If you lie down on the job, they'll go to the food bank or the ballet company or the charity down the street. It's that simple.