Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Make the Most of Meager Resources in Your Nonprofit Organization

Make the Most of Meager Nonprofit Resources | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Your nonprofit organization most likely exists on a shoestring budget and is continually looking for ways to stretch its dollars and raise more money. The best way to make the most of meager resources is to invest in them wisely. The key element is to invest in people and relationships, according to Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority.

Create a Mentor Program for Volunteers

Your nonprofit organization probably relies heavily — maybe entirely — on volunteer support. A volunteer-based organization can help communicate your group's grassroots mission to the general public. Volunteers also help to create a "roll up our sleeves" attitude and a sense of ownership among supporters.

But misinformed or uninformed volunteers can mislead potential members or sponsors - and may ultimately cost you potential donor support. To avoid this, create a formal mentoring or buddy program to pair seasoned, successful volunteers with newcomers. This effort may be the preventive measure your organization needs to avoid volunteer-donor conflict.

Invest in Your Web Presence

Your website is your organization's most important fundraising and marketing tool. The website may be the first interaction a potential supporter has with your organization. An amateur-looking or outdated website is worse than no website, and it may deter a potential supporter.

Try cultivating relationships with web designers and web design companies who can provide services at reduced rates that can meet your budget.

If you use a professional firm or designer to create your website, make certain that your staff or volunteers have the tools and skills necessary to access, edit and maintain the site's content down the road.

Invest in Your Printed Communications

Tools such as newsletters, brochures, and annual reports are among your organization's most important investments. They help maximize fundraising efforts by presenting a professional (albeit grassroots) image to those just getting to know you. Professionally designed and printed communications can make an important and lasting impression.

For example, the Monroe Arts Center, located in a historic church building in Monroe, Wisconsin, decided to save money by outsourcing its printed materials to a local jail. When the organization launched a capital campaign to build a modern addition to its historic facility, the organization invested in professionally printed materials — and saw its revenues increase by 50 percent!

If your organization cannot afford professional design and printing services, cultivate relationships with companies and individuals who can provide pro bono design assistance and donate printing costs. Take time to build these relationships in advance of your needs; you will not get free help if you ask at the last minute.

If you must produce printed materials in-house, never use clip art. Use simple fonts and manipulate font sizes and style functions to accentuate headlines.

Invest in Good Equipment

With a tight budget, it will be tempting to cut corners to save money. But be aware of false economies or cost-saving actions that waste money in the long run. By constantly searching for ways to save on every expense, your nonprofit can lose time and money trying to make less-than-ideal fixes work.

For example, false economies often occur when nonprofit organizations make poor decisions about buying old equipment and acquiring donated items. Old equipment requires more maintenance, and maintenance takes time and often money. In addition, old computers may not support the latest technologies.

Bootlegged software is illegal, and your organization could be fined for using it.

Instead of falling into the false economy trap, invest in equipment and web-based technologies that can help your organization operate in an efficient and professional manner.

Host a Rent Party

If your organization is just starting out with a small-to-nonexistent budget, consider hosting an old-fashioned rent party. A rent party is simply a party where you pass a hat to collect donations for your organization.

Rent parties can capture the grassroots, shoestring-budget rawness that many people like about their nonprofit organization ... no frills! They can also draw attention to overhead expenses and needs, which may attract sponsors who could relieve you of the necessity of staging rent parties.

You might plan a party for once a month, every other month, or just when you anticipate poor cash flow. Volunteers can take turns catering each party.

Host a Casual Fundraising Event

If your organization does not have the funding or underwriting support for a conventional fundraiser with an open bar and served hors d' oeuvres, don't hold a conventional fundraiser. Instead, host a BYOB party or a backyard barbeque. You can ask for $50 donations at casual events. You don't need a white-tablecloth event to ask attendees to support your organization.

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