Financial sustainability on a shoestring: possible or not?

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 Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

9th June 2016

A couple of weeks ago I addressed the (long) short list of key factors for NPOs to develop  fundraising fitness.  The thing is … it looks like you have to spend money to make money (ain’t that Rule No. 1, then) – and you really don’t have any of that.

So how do you tackle your organisational sustainability on a shoestring?  Surely being financially constrained doesn’t mean a non-profit dead end?  The good news is, it definitely does not mean a dead end … necessarily.  The bad news (for some, perhaps) is that it requires solid, hard, knuckling-down kind of work.  And if you don’t yet have staff, or your complement is small, then that’s what the Board is for.  After all, we got into this because of our commitment to social change, right? That we would do what is required to achieve the organisation’s goals, yes?

Rule 1 on being fundraising-fit is:

There are no shortcuts in raising money. No quick fixes. No cutting corners.

Moving on from that, let’s look at what the options are for a no-budget fundraising endeavour:

  1. Governance: your NPO board members will have come on board because they believe in the mission of the organisation and are prepared to put in the effort to achieve it.  You will have to accept/ expect that board members are on board to provide voluntary input, support, and expertise. Which requires time. Kind of a deal-breaker. Not negotiable.  The more cash-tight you are, the harder the board will have to work (so if you are recruiting new board members, make sure they know this up front!).
  2. Planning: is non-negotiable.  The primary resources for this are time and skills. You will have to have had both to start your non-profit, so you should be able to do this without additional expenditure.
  3. Financial management: there isn’t a no-budget option here, unless one of your board members is a finance expert. You will have to spend money here.  For annual audited financial statements, there isn’t any way around this, so you have to accommodate for this in your initial budgeting.
  4. Fundraising skills: if you don’t yet have the staff, you must use the skills available through your board and/or other volunteers. These skills include
    • leadership;
    • project planning and management;
    • information management and data-mining;
    • communications;
    • networking and relationship-building;
    • writing (proposals/ reports etc);
    • financial management;
    • fundraising (donor prospecting, stewardship, relationship management, budgeting, proposal writing, donor reporting, donor acknowledgement, understanding the fundraising cycle, maintaining long-term donors, building an annual fund, legacy fundraising, campaign development and implementation and others).
    • if you don’t have access to such skills without having to insource skills at a cost, then  be realistic and manage what you can: focus on donor identification and relationship building, and proposal development.  Keep it simple. And plan your approach to raising the required resources.  Planning. Planning. This can be done without funding, but it has to be done properly and with commitment to the end goal of achieving the organisational change objectives.
  5. Communications and marketing: If you don’t do anything else, make sure you build your profile.  This is much easier to do than it used to be, with far less money.  Developing a facebook page, and a twitter account would suffice to start – and they provide you with the freedom to publish your own content according to your own schedule and deadlines.  That said, there are some ground rules – and it is more effective with a bit of money invested into your channels.  But not having money does not need to prevent you from starting.  There are great online resources to guide and advise (see below).
  6. Information management: one thing you must get right is to capture and maintain your stakeholder contact data, and – if they are donors – their record of support.  You don’t need fancy software for this.  Excel is a perfectly adequate system to start, and will serve you well.

The most important skill, which costs no additional money, is your capacity to speak passionately and expertly about your work and what you seek to achieve.  This will take you a long way to achieving your resourcing goals, while costing very little.

In short, with some good volunteers with an effective spread of skills (because a key component of people becoming board members, right, is the skills they bring to the organisational party), you should be able to get up and running without incurring huge costs and needing significant resources to get going.

Focus, attention to detail, commitment to the end goals, and dogged determination – plus a host of free resources online and offline – will definitely get you to where you want to go.  It might seem easier with a whole big fundraising budget – but it is not a non-profit dead end if you don’t have the money.

But remember: the goal is to raise funding to include budget for fundraising.  Remaining in a frugal mindset will ultimately cost you.  Read here on the cost of being too frugal, and of remaining in that paradigm.

FREE RESOURCES

www.nonprofitlawyer.co.za – for resources on governance and non-profit law: Excellent set of short videos and articles to guide you

www.nonprofit-network.org – a fantastic set of resources for non-profit social media and communications

www.askinyathelo.org.za – a whole site of tips, tools, guidance and resources covering the key skills areas for organisational sustainability

www.ngopulse.org/about – a great portal of information and resources in support of South Africa’s non-profit sector; almost a meeting place – with articles, issues, resources, jobs and opportunity listings and  more

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Financial sustainability on a shoestring: possible or not?

  1. Pingback: The South African NPO Funding Crisis – again? | philanthropediaSA

  2. Pingback: South African NPOs: Six things to avoid in fundraising emails | philanthropediaSA

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