5 Barriers to Nonprofit Growth and How to Move Beyond Them
Posted by Allison Porter at Jun 12, 2014 07:03 AM CDT

This article originally appeared on the Avalon FYI blog.

Integrated marketing is critical for nonprofit growth, but it can only be as effective as an organization's broader strategic commitments. 

I recently had the privilege of attending the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s Leadership Summit for nonprofit sector executives. The conference was an exciting series of keynote speakers and breakout discussions focused on a critical topic for our nonprofit community -- overcoming barriers to growth.  

The Challenge: More investment is needed -- whether to strengthen donor engagement and retention, or to expand new donor acquisition. The potential for revenue growth is huge, but the required, upfront capital investment is not there. (Does this sound familiar?)  

DMANF Leadership Summit speakers and breakout discussions revealed five areas requiring attention in order to tackle this challenge. These barriers to growth profoundly impact our work as marketers -- particularly in today’s integrated marketing landscape, which demands much more than successful, isolated campaigns (however profitable they may be).

  1. The number one obstacle identified at the summit was executive education. The need to inform and persuade the leadership of organizations -- from CEOs and CFOs, to board chairs and board committees -- is significant. Persuading leadership to invest in direct marketing requires us to be clear, concise and direct in stating our case. In addition, we must be able to help nonprofit leaders as they overcome underlying biases against direct marketing and fundraising (the irrational “ick" factor).
  2. A related barrier to growth is short-termism. It is essential that we move away from the dominance of short-term goals and towards a more strategic horizon. To do so, we must enable our executives and boards to evaluate and understand the long-term value of today’s fundraising investments, and how they pay off for decades to come. Embedded in this short-term focus is an understandable, but dangerous risk aversion. We must present and embrace new options for understanding the value of risk and opportunity. As marketers, we have the right tools for this work: long-range forecasts and cost-benefit analyses give us a more complete understanding of the decisions and investments that we make today, along with their impact on our futures.
  3. We are hamstrung by an industry-wide shortage of seasoned direct marketers, as well as significant turnover and a shortage of strong new hires. To address this, we must deliberately support strategic hiring, strong cultures, and healthy work environments. And, perhaps most importantly, we must mentor, grow, and develop fundraisers at all stages in their careers.
  4. Another obstacle to growth is a lack of collaboration -- both internal (across teams, across departments) and external (across consultants, across creative talent, across the industry). Channel coordination is a must, and both nonprofits and agencies alike worry about how to have better 360-degree views of our program data.
  5. Finally, and not least importantly, we must acknowledge a changing donor landscape. Whether it's generational, ethnic, or by channel usage, donors are changing -- and so are their expectations. They are asking us to connect with them emotionally, while also quantifying impact, and we must rise to the occasion. How? Leverage the tried-and-true in direct marketing fundraising and caution against chasing the shiny new toy -- all the while employing testing and analytics to identify new and more effective ways to engage donors in this new environment.

These obstacles are significant, but they are surmountable. What are your thoughts on the topic? Please share them in the comments section below.

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