In with the not-so-new: Top 4 for 2024
By Jeff Ashley
President & Founder
It’s hard to believe we’re already saying goodbye to 2023. As I look back over the last year or so, several things we might have called “trends” have shown pretty significant staying power. When things move from “trends” to ongoing best practices, they also start to become “non-negotiables” as the nonprofit sector continues to navigate lingering challenges from the pandemic years and overall uncertainty.
Without further ado, here are my top four things to act on or set goals around in 2024. These, in my mind, are essential when considering what the future looks like for nonprofits.
- Adopt an entrepreneurial mindset around revenue sources. This is a gentle reminder that “nonprofit” is only a tax status. It’s critical to develop and hone entrepreneurial, creative, and intentional attitudes toward developing new revenue sources – and not just around philanthropy.
As is the case with most leaders this time of year, hitting year-end revenue gaps and goals are top of mind. Many feel a sense of urgency to raise more philanthropic dollars, and while that’s always part of the mix, it’s not the full solution. Consider the real value of services your organization offers – could those services be better leveraged and potentially monetized with community constituents outside your traditional service population? For example, in many cases, if your organization wasn’t around to meet a need, local government or the private sector would be left to do something about it – and it would cost them money. Could your nonprofit create a more formal, sustainable business arrangement to drive more consistent revenue from a corporate or government partner because of the services you provide? Think about other areas that might be revenue producers.
- Powerful, relevant storytelling will drive and demonstrate impact. Once you’ve identified who you want to influence with your stories, consider what will resonate most with that population. What are the stories that set your organization apart? Bring your mission to life through personal stories that show real-life impact and the value of your organization. And test those stories to see which ones are most important to those outside your organization – not just those on the inside.
The end goal is for your target audience to think, “This organization isn’t a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s a MUST-have.” And wherever possible, tie your organization’s stories and mission to headline news or current events, demonstrating how you play a role in helping solve big problems. Keep it simple and concise; from the executive director to volunteers, everyone associated with the organization should be able to share your nonprofit’s stories with someone they pass on the street or meet in an elevator.
- Drive more creativity around workforce solutions. Labor challenges are showing no signs of letting up, which will continue to put pressure on mission attainment. Most organizations need more than warm bodies to do the work; they need qualified people who are committed to mission and understand their role in the nonprofit’s overall success.
Think about your labor pool as a puzzle – it might require lots of different-looking pieces to complete it, including employees, vendors, contractors, and outside partners. Many nonprofits are collaborating with organizations that have similar or complementary missions to increase efficiency. Some are closing the gap with interim or fractional staffing (there can also be cost savings with these arrangements as non-employees are typically ineligible for benefits). Do you have internship opportunities with college students that could help create a pipeline of future workforce? And when used correctly and responsibly, artificial intelligence could play a role in lightening the workload for a leaner team – more on that to come, so stay tuned!
But when you do need people on the payroll and in the trenches, consider how to best attract candidates to your nonprofit by highlighting your culture and any creative or unique compensation packages or benefits. For example, one organization provides a monthly health and wellness stipend for employees to use as they see fit to support their physical, mental, or social-emotional well-being.
- Plan for the future now. While you may not see the fruits of your labor immediately, tools like a planned giving program and endowment will bring untold peace of mind. Two simple gift vehicles are driving most charitable planned giving conversations: In the last seven or eight years, more than 85% of planned gifts directed to an endowment have come in the form of, “I’ll add you to my will,” or, “I’ve made you a partial or full beneficiary of an existing life insurance policy.” I recommend putting these options in front of donors to kickstart your long-term philanthropic planning. And you don’t have to “go big;” it’s entirely possible to have a robust and productive planned giving program if you focus on five to six of these donors per year. Being very focused on building this program will have a significant impact on your organization both now and in the future – but it takes a commitment.
While there are undoubtedly other action items and strategies that come into play depending on specific missions and circumstances, these are the four areas I feel most nonprofit leaders and boards of directors should commit to spending time on in 2024.
Feel free to reach out anytime if you’d like to chat about these or anything else on your mind!