According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. As the number of nonprofit organizations continues to grow each year, competition for available funds – whether individual donors, business sponsors, or grants – has become fierce. With limited funds, ambitious Founders and Executive Directors often support their start-up nonprofit organization through massive outpourings of time and money. However, this method quickly becomes unsustainable, and the nonprofit fails once personal resources are maxed out.
The key to success in a start-up nonprofit is to have a strategic plan to guide and organize the organization. Here are the three essential parts of a nonprofit strategic plan:
- Strong Board: The importance of a strong Board of Directors is often overlooked, but is critical to organizational success. Simply having board members is not enough. You need to have active, engaged, well respected board members that add value to your organization and help you do the heavy lifting. Especially in a start-up nonprofit’s early days, good board members will help you spread the word, activate their networks, and drive engagement. Board members should also assist in the daily and administrative tasks that can quickly overwhelm and consume a nonprofit executive director. Nonprofit board members can also give your fledgling organization credibility within the community, and with funders. Consider asking well-regarded members of your community to serve as a member of your board. Elected officials, faith leaders, community activists – try to get as many people on your nonprofit Board of Directors as possible. Not only will this help spread the message throughout your community, but it will also add credibility for your organization especially as it starting out.
- Data Collection and Evaluation Plan: You have an eloquent proposal, an innovative program, and an established reputation, but you are coming up short in your grant requests. Why? You need DATA. As the competition for available grants continues to increase, it is essential to prove your organization’s success to potential funders. Get the proven, measurable results you need to enhance your proposals through a well-defined research and evaluation plan. You know you are doing great work, but that is not enough. You must collect multiple forms of data, then use it to prove to the world just how great it truly is.
- Sustainability Plan:When planning for your budget and operational costs, it is imperative to devise a sustainability plan. Your nonprofit MUST earn its own income. At a minimum, 75% of your projected revenue should come from earned income streams such as contracts, merchandise purchases, fees for service, etc., as well as individual donors. Grants should be used to scale something that is already working well – NOT something to help you get off the ground. Nonprofits that rely on grant funding, particularly those that are smaller, just starting out, and with no proven track record often fumble and struggle to make it through the first year. Sadly, many fail within the first few months.
Without a well developed strategic plan that includes a strong Board of Directors, research and evaluation plan, and a sustainability strategy, your nonprofit will struggle to survive. Unfortunately, over 98% of all US nonprofit applications are approved. A well-defined, sustainable strategic plan is hardly part of this process! But if you really want to make it in the nonprofit world, these are the three essential components that must be part of your nonprofit strategic plan. Is is quick and easy? Absolutely not! But it will position your nonprofit for success, while many around you flounder.