You work hard for your nonprofit. You care for your people, and you’re committed to your donors.
But if you’re like most nonprofit leaders, there are certain issues you just can’t seem to shake… challenges that are blocking your organization from striding forward to lead the way in mission impact.
Here are 9 common traps every nonprofit needs to overcome to attract new donors, launch new initiatives, and break past barriers to do more good.
1. You don’t see people problems… you only see external problems.
Like every good nonprofit leader, you’ve got deep insight into the problems and challenges your organization faces.
But what’s the source of those problems?
Many leaders fall into the trap of viewing people problems as external problems. After all, we’re a “family”… and families don’t have problems, right?
Whatever big challenges your organization currently faces, examine them from every angle to see whether they may be rooted in people issues.
Maybe you’ve got too few donors who give second-time gifts. There could be all sorts of external barriers blocking them from making that second gift. But it could also be that your team isn’t equipped to help new donors feel the sense of community they long for.
2. Your team has an “It’s always been done this way” attitude.
“Don’t fix something if it ain’t broke.“
That saying is useful for so many things. Such as toilets. And stop signs. And Keurig coffee makers.
But in the nonprofit world, there will always be better ways of doing.
The “it’s always been done this way” mindset is common on risk-averse teams. Afraid that a new idea may not work, they settle for what’s always worked.
But how well do they truly work?
At best, they may be producing the same mediocre results they’ve always delivered. But what’s the cost? You could be missing out on huge opportunities to try something innovative that will scale your impact beyond what you imagined possible.
3. Your average donor is over the age of 70.
God bless boomers, right? These highly pragmatic folks know the power of their dollars, and they give more money than people in any other age group.
But there’s a problem: They’re passing on.
If your fundraising strategy depends on people over the age of 70, then your nonprofit isn’t going to survive much longer than a decade or so.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Nonprofits in every sector are facing this impending cliff of plummeting gifts as boomers age out.
4. Your team spends time waiting—not iterating.
What’s the responsible thing to do when you’re launching a new idea? Conventional wisdom tells you to plan, prepare, and get all your ducks in a row.
Yet for so many executive leaders, planning is their biggest barrier to getting stuff done.
If you’ve got a new initiative to launch, don’t burn your time and resources researching and making sure every little thing is just right before you act.
A carefully planned, linear approach works well for predictable, recurring processes.
But when your team is trying to bring a new initiative to life, it’s better to go agile—to release your idea into the wild then adapt and iterate it until you’ve got a fine-tuned end product. This will deliver better results faster than waiting and executing after months (or years) of research and preparation.
5. You focus on scarcity instead of scale.
Most nonprofit leaders feel the pressure of having too few resources. They work hard to make the wisest decisions possible with the limited funds available.
That’s good. But don’t fall into the trap of the scarcity mentality, which shapes the decisions you make, the direction you give your team, and so much more.
A scarcity mentality leads you to look at limited resources as needing to be protected and kept safe. You focus on optimizing funds so they’re spread out thinly and evenly across the entire organization.
Meanwhile, the most successful nonprofit leaders focus on scale, asking how they can use available resources to seal the organization’s future growth.
It’s quite a different mindset, isn’t it.
6. Decision making is for “senior” staff.
What happens when you gather your VPs and execs into your boardroom?
Decisions get made, right? (Or at least they get discussed.)
But how often have you seen senior-level decisions be put into action… only to fail to deliver, or worse, disrupt entire teams and processes?
Your senior leaders will never have the depth of ground-level insights and feedback to make the best decisions that deliver the greatest impact to your donors and to the people you serve.
To get bigger, better results, push decision making beyond the boardroom and as far down into your organization as you can.
7. The tyranny of the urgent hijacks your workdays.
Every day brings new demands, piling onto the ones that didn’t get resolved yesterday.
You can’t ignore the urgent.
But you can choose how you respond.
Not every urgent matter needs to be solved immediately. Consider which ones absolutely must get resolved… and which ones can be managed over time.
Because if you let every urgent need run you over, they’ll keep you from leading your organization to innovate and do more good.
8. Your decisions are guided by internal processes, not by donor needs.
The nonprofit sector is notorious for processes that don’t work.
There are cumbersome expense reports, aging CRM platforms, and web experiences that don’t take donors’ needs into account.
Poor user experiences are created when nonprofits aren’t willing to pay for better services, hire people trained in design thinking, or invest in best-in-class technology.
If this sounds like your organization, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you: You’re losing people because of stuff like this. The harder it is for your team to do their work, for volunteers to sign up, or for donors to see the impact of their giving… the more likely people will opt out and move their allegiance over to another nonprofit with a better experience.
9. You think video is nice to have… rather than a must-have.
The longer you wait to adopt video, the faster you’ll become obsolete in the world.
Video is rapidly becoming the way people consume information. In fact, TikTok and Instagram are taking traffic away from Google—because more and more people want to see video-first search results.
Video isn’t a marketing play.
It’s THE way people are going to learn about your nonprofit in the future.
If you want to build a bigger, more engaged force of donors and volunteers, it’s time to integrate video into your communications.
Every nonprofit leader faces these challenges at some point. Those who overcome them to launch their organization into the future do so by aligning their internal culture.
The key to creating a consistent, stand-out experience for your team, volunteers, and donors is to infuse your culture into everything you do—how you hire, make decisions, launch new ideas, build your donor base, and respond to urgent demands.
A culture that allows you to consistently deliver on your brand promise does more for your mission impact than any amount of paid marketing could do.
Start by looking at your values. Then, try turning these into principles and actionable behaviors that show your people how to live them out.
For example, a value for “compassion” becomes, “On every call with a donor, we ask them how they’re doing and what’s going on in their life.”
“Courage” turns into, “We test and iterate on radical ideas that carry the potential to increase our impact.”