Not-for-profits all over Australia do amazing and important work. But there’s no doubt it can be tough to continually find the resources to keep operating, let alone improving. Funding is often the number one concern in this sector, but there are alternatives to asking for donations.
Ad-hoc donations are hard to plan for, tumultuous, and often require much more work than you realise. If you have paid employees or contractors you need to weigh up the effort versus reward – exactly how much time was spent attracting, securing and processing that $50 or $100 donation, only to have to do it all over again? Suddenly it just doesn’t have quite the same impact. So, what can you try instead?
#1 Get clear on your budget and value your time
This is important to know because if you’re asking for funds you also need to be clear about where they will be going. Your budget should be broken down by area, you should know your fixed costs and what the full cost is to deliver various projects. This will help you determine whether you’re spending more time (and money) chasing and administering ad-hoc donations than what you’re getting back. Even if you have committed volunteers, could their time be spent better on core work that helps deliver on your purpose? Tip: it also really helps when you get to #4 and #5!
#2 Take stock of your assets
This will give you an idea of what you can offer a potential partner. This could be infrastructure – do you work from a building in a high-profile location or one with plenty of foot traffic? Are there neighbouring services or businesses? Maybe it’s about your people… enthusiastic volunteers, skilled employees, a high-calibre board or committee, or all of the above! It can also be about communication and reputation. Do you communicate well and have attracted plenty of followers interested in your work and story? Is your organisation well respected in the community? By doing what you do and being consistent you might be an ideal partner.
#3 Tweak what you already do
Can you change up what you’re already doing to bring in more funds? For example, you might deliver activities that engage families in learning. Maybe you aim to be inclusive and offer these to families that would normally miss out, through location or cost. BUT what if there are also many families that want to attend these events and can afford to pay? You could offer your event on a fee-for-service basis to those who can afford it. Your pricing will depend on the market and audience (this needs to be properly planned!) but you could do this just above cost-price and rely on grants or funding for the inclusive versions, or factor in some profit that helps you run the inclusive versions without needing external funds. Think about this in relation to your organisation, assets and services.
#4 Partner up
I’m a big fan of partnering with like-minded businesses, organisations, government or other NFPs. But by doing the extra work to identify your assets and your costs you know both what you can offer a potential partner and what you need in return for it to work. One partner could have assets to offer in-kind (see #2), the other cash. Consider sponsorship arrangements (a professional sponsorship document is great for this), advertising, joint projects or simply combining forces to mutually save costs and reach more people. A note on funding – the work you put in at step #1 will help you a great deal in the future. You can easily work out the cost of complying with funding (e.g. reporting) to a dollar amount and decide if it’s worthwhile before you leap.
#5 Can you develop a product?
A product can be many things – an event, an e-book or even hand lotion… after all, the organisation thankyou uses products as the basis for its social enterprise, with 100% of profits going to causes that have helped 755,338 people get access to a safe birth, healthcare, water and sanitation services and food aid.
Some NFPs run retail outlets selling donated goods (sometimes run by volunteers) or hold auctions selling goods created by the people that are receiving the benefit. If you operate out of a building, work it like a product. Hire out space, offer hot desks, host events or meetings, or sub-lease. Just check any agreements you have first!
Products can also be built on your knowledge and skills and you could pitch for a paid piece of work. One NFP runs a large survey once per year with its skilled volunteers and planners pay for the valuable data. It’s a win-win, planners get the data they need to make decisions (which they would need to pay for even if they used their own staff) and for the NFP it’s an easy annual commitment for its volunteers in their field of expertise, which can be turned into a bit of fun. Consider the knowledge in your organisation as a valuable basis to develop a product.
There are plenty more alternatives to asking for donations, and we’d love to know what you come up with.