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Donor Participation Project

Forget Scalability: Do What Works for Your Organization

For small nonprofits, especially those in start-up mode, focusing on scalability can be counterproductive. When resources and capacity are limited, organizations should do what works for them rather than trying to emulate larger institutions.

Ali Evans, Executive Director of Foodnet Meals on Wheels, advises not getting caught up in “shoulds” and prescribed best practices.

Instead, rely on instinct and do what feels right for your organization and supporters. For Foodnet, that meant sending emails and handwritten cards to donors outside of their usual schedule during the pandemic. These personal touches built trust and helped to retain donors despite canceling in-person events.

For recruiting, Foodnet skips job boards in favor of networking. According to Evans, “You’re going to get like-minded people” through connecting with local organizations and at community events. They also get creative by partnering with nearby colleges to provide work-study roles. These internships provide needed support at low cost while giving students valuable experience.

Investing in basic systems and infrastructure is still important for efficiency and retaining knowledge, especially with high turnover common in nonprofits. However, organizations don’t need “all the bells and whistles” and should choose tools that meet their current needs. For Foodnet, that’s a simple donor database to track gifts and communications. They also worked to formalize policies and procedures to ensure consistency even when staff members leave.

Partnerships can also help build capacity. Foodnet was able to establish a planned giving program by working with their local community foundation. The foundation acts as a fiscal sponsor, accepting and managing complex donations on Foodnet’s behalf.

Overall, the key is not to get caught up in unrealistic expectations of how a nonprofit “should” operate. Focus on building trust, meeting your supporters’ needs in authentic ways, and embracing creative solutions. What works for large organizations may not suit your unique situation. Forget scalability and do what is right for your organization.

View the full recording of this session in ourĀ Resource Library.

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