What is the number one thing a nonprofit needs? Nonprofits need many things to operate. For example, nonprofit organizations need a mission, a reason to exist, they need a board of directors, donors, volunteers, staff. They need to receive a tax exemption under the Internal Revenue Service. And, they need supplies. The list of needs seems nearly endless.
However, none of those is the number one thing a nonprofit needs. Of course, having a mission is important, as are all of the items on the list. But, they’re not number one.
The number one thing that a nonprofit needs is public trust. Let me say that again. Public trust.
In order to do any work, nonprofits must raise funds. In order to do this, regardless of the source of these funds, nonprofits must generate trust in their ability to effectively and efficiently get the work done that they say they are doing.
I’m sure that you’ve heard of at least one nonprofit “scandal,” where an organization misused a large amount of funds, wasted funds, or something else equally as shocking. Occasionally, these perceived assumptions can be due to false data, the reality is the same. Broken public trust.
Take a moment to think about a few questions: What happened after you heard about this scandal? How did you hear about it? If you had donated to this organization in the past, how would you feel? Upset? Angry? Confused as to how something like that could happen?
If you had a choice between two different organizations that provide the same public benefit, and one had this scandal in its history, which would you choose to give to? Most likely, you would give to the organization without scandal, because you want your money used for the purposes you understood when you gave.
Trust is important for all types of donors and grantmakers. The people or entities giving the funds want to be certain that it is used for the purpose in which they gave. After receiving a grant, this often means follow-up reporting once the money has been spent.
How can you generate public trust?
It seems simple, but to generate public trust it is important to make sure your organization does the things they say they are going to do. Also, make sure to use the money for the purposes they stated. This last part is a big deal. Transparency is important.
If you’re soliciting donors to sponsor an event, be sure to not use those funds then to run programming. If the organization needs funds for both an event and programming, it is important for all generated revenue to be unrestricted. It is also important that your donors know the money will be going to both purposes.
Another way to generate public trust is to ensure all money is used efficiently. This starts with having a clearly defined and strategic budget. Haphazard purchasing and spending policies (or worse, no purchasing policies) will lead to disaster. Just like with personal finances, without a great budget, it is easy to overspend on items that only felt like a need at the time.
How can you keep public trust?
The first step is to follow the above advice. Then, the next step is to make sure that it is visible.
If the public can’t see or hear about the impact your organization makes, people won’t know about it. Developing solid communication and marketing strategies are important to getting your impact out there. What are the best strategies to reach your donors, prospective donors, and community partners? Press releases? Email? Social Media? Snail-mail?
You’re doing the work. Be proud of it. Brag about it. Let the people know!
Mia is a committed, cause-driven consultant who partners with nonprofits to grow their impact, achieve their mission, and actualize their vision. She believes in the power of nonprofits and their ability to solve the most challenging problems if they have the right resources.