Despite the Great Recession and the long process of economic recovery of the 2000s, the non-profit sector has become one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics’ most recent research, the United States is home to more than 1.5 million registered non-profit organizations—marking a nearly 20 percent increase over the last 10 years, a time frame in which many businesses in the for-profit sector have struggled.
This rapid growth is certainly a sign of success, and—as non-profits employ nearly 11 million American workers and contribute roughly $887 billion to the national economy—it is difficult for anyone to argue against the economic value of a thriving non-profit sector.
However, the unprecedented rate at which new organizations are being created is also creating a challenge. The non-profit sector is more crowded than ever before, making it very difficult for organizations to secure—and retain—their donor bases.
On a local level, there are 33,000 non-profit organizations registered in Massachusetts—each competing with one another for precious dollars from a limited pool of individual donors, corporate foundations and other fundraising sources. In a recent cover story in The Boston Globe, many industry experts argue the field of non-profit organizations in Massachusetts is simply too large to sustain.
However, the organizations themselves, and the tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents employed by non-profits, are doing everything they can to prove those experts are wrong.
And that starts with donor retention.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals reports that, on average, donor retention rates across the non-profit sector are around 43%, meaning less than half of an organization’s 2016 donor base will contribute. In order to grow in a competitive non-profit environment, organizations have to find a way to land recurring donors. To do this, non-profits are employing several strategies. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on three:
Differentiating themselves from other, potentially similar organizations
Many potential donors or grant-awarding foundations would love to support every deserving cause that asks for and needs their help. Realistically, though, donors need to choose between hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly operating organizations to which they can lend their financial support. Non-profits, especially non-profits working to support similar demographics, are under enormous pressure to set themselves apart to attract new sources of funding. It’s never been more important for a non-profit to have a very clear, very specific mission.
Investing in “fundraising infrastructure”
Fundraising success is entirely beholden to the amount of time and resources organizations are willing to invest. In order to succeed in today’s hyper-competitive non-profit sector, organizations must invest in fundraising professionals, such as high-ranking development officers, and fundraising “infrastructure,” such as top-notch technology and donor databases.
The clear, specific vision makes an organization attractive to donors. Development professionals and in-depth donor databases help organizations find them.
Increase efficiency by streamlining their accounting functions
Back-office financial work is crucial to the long-term success of the organization. That said, it’s also very time-consuming. As many organizations are investing significantly more time to their fundraising operations, some non-profit leaders are finding ways to take complex financial paperwork off their desk so they can focus on the organization’s core competencies. This may entail creating new jobs for a full-time accounting team, or hiring a third-party financial organization to take on those responsibilities.