Six of the Biggest Challenges on the Horizon for Nonprofits

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One of our roles as consultants is to help our clients maintain focus on long-term strategy. The pressures of the day-to-day tend to force most institutional leaders to resort to short-term solutions. As the old adage goes, “It’s difficult to remember, when you are up to your ears in alligators, that your main job is to drain the swamp!”

Part of our responsibility is to always be thinking months ahead, preparing our client to face the challenges that lie just around the corner. We also bring a broad base of experience in the larger marketplace to institutional leaders, which can help them to recognize—with time to make adjustments—some of the inevitable challenges they will face.

We’re betting that most of the following will be questions you’ll have to face in one way or another over the next few years, if you’re not facing them already.

1. How can you incorporate technological advances into how your organization does what it does?

It’s important to consider how you can engage more audiences and widen your impact using emerging technology. If your audience isn’t responding to “the way you’ve always done it,” chances are you won’t convince them otherwise.

People increasingly desire the speed and convenience of being able to access information how they want it, where they want it, and when they want it. Nonprofits need to be able to incorporate advances in technology like mobile web design, touch screen technology, app development, and wearable technology to engage a wider audience.

2. Is the trend of board members participating virtually in meetings limiting your board’s productivity?

More of your board members will forgo in-person participation in board meeting and rely on conference calls and video communication. Unfortunately, this practice might begin to limit board member engagement in the work of your organization.

But, is there a way to leverage this cultural shift to your advantage? If you’re beginning to have issues now, it may be time to reconsider your board practices.  If virtual meetings suit the work you do, you may be able to recruit committed board members who would never have been available for regular in-person meetings before. You also may find that modifying your term policies for board membership can help keep membership active and engaged.  Perhaps you need to develop new ways to engage virtual attendees or tailor responsibilities to better suit members attending meetings remotely.

3. How can you stay true to your organization’s core mission while appealing to a broader number of people?

Yes, you must build your donor base and constantly work to attract new prospects. This means bringing new friends into the fold. Targeting new and/or younger audiences may cause you to stray from your core mission, perhaps by offering an attention-grabbing event or program.

By bending over backward to appeal to a new constituent group, you might be rejecting the “loyalty perspectives” of their elders. Discuss with your leadership if these audience development efforts reduce overall quality or change the nature of your organization. Trade-off decisions like this require careful consideration.

4. How can public/private ventures work when there is no public money?

We may never see the level of government participation again that we once knew; yet the importance of these great civic undertakings continues.

In today’s world of municipal and state financial crisis, we’re starting to see many public/private projects receive most or all of their funding from private sources. How can your organization accept this reality and develop a new model for decision-making, civic leadership and philanthropy that will enable us as a society to take on the major projects that will help us improve and transform our neighborhoods, cities and states?

5. Can your development office continue to expand?

The transition from volunteer fundraisers to large development staffs has made hiring skilled development professionals increasingly competitive. In this competitive environment, nonprofits more than ever are faced with figuring out how to increase their fundraising capacity.

Full time staff members often do have more experience, skill, reliability, and a more measurable return on investment than volunteers, so this trend will likely continue. Leadership should strategize ways the organization can maximize its budget by outsourcing aspects of development that do not require front-line fundraisers so the budget exists to recruit talented staff. Hiring more junior professionals and creating an environment that makes them want to stay can also have a positive impact on the bottom line.

6. How can you show the impact of your outreach programs in a competitive market?

As more organizations address the needs of underserved communities, your nonprofit is likely facing greater challenges distinguishing its efforts from those of other institutions.

It’s becoming especially important for NPOs to measure the effectiveness of programs. Being able to measure impact will help improve programming for the communities you serve, enabling you to track what’s working and what isn’t. It’s also a critically important part of the conversation with potential donors, as many philanthropists increasingly think of charity in terms of investment, expecting proof of impact.

Are you facing any of these issues right now? Are there any big issues we missed? Join the discussion in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.