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Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance

The Organization May Have Zilch, But You Won’t

Nonprofit employees have the most honed leadership characteristics.

Does that sound silly? I’ll admit I am biased– not because I am a nonprofiteer or graduate student in Public Administration but because nonprofit management trends are on the rise and I am entrepreneurial (which, they say, comes with the Gen Y territory). Entrepreneurial traits such as vision, adaptability, flexibility, and a willingness to do some bootstrapping (thanks, Guy Kawasaki) are necessities when you work in a nonprofit organization that has limited monetary resources.

When an organization has limited funds, employees must rise to the occasion and they do. For example, according to a recent study, small nonprofit organizations are outperforming larger organizations online. These organizations with “zilch” saw an increase in online giving, had greater e-mail click-through rates than richer organizations, and generally had greater ROI from online outreach. These organizations are truly doing more with less.

A small organization with limited funds has the ability to have open communication among employees and a horizontal structure. The professional benefits don’t stop there: working for an organization that is doing more with less allows you to build doing-more-with-less into your professional mindset. And wiring yourself to think this way makes you a better leader. Here’s why:

When you’re on a small team, you get to wear a lot of hats. Whether this is exhausting or invigorating depends on your outlook. The required diversification for your skill set, however, is likely to be extremely beneficial in the long-run. In organizations with limited funds, it’s not unlikely to have a marketer who writes grants and has experience in program delivery. This person, regardless of formal title, is a marketer, fundraiser, and program coordinator in one. In this single position, the employee gets a chance to experience nonprofit management and exert leadership in several different roles. This person sees more than just one corner of the office, and developing and exercising these multiple skill sets- though famously contributing to nonprofit burnout- may provide a greater long-term advantage to nonprofit employees than the short-term disadvantage.

When the organization has zilch, everyone gets to bring their individual strengths to the table and you get to pick your area in which to shine. This makes shining much easier. Love shooting footage on your flip camera? Go make some videos for your organization (I pieced together these ones). When I worked at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, we saved thousands of dollars on our large-scale public events by summoning talent of internal staff members who were talented face-painters, astronomers, magicians, food composters, marine experts, or scholars on the physics of bubbles– and they were as excited to show off their talents as we were thrilled to show them off.

Flexibility and agility are often built-in to the culture by necessity, which facilitates constant ambushes of creative thinking and innovative ideas– and creative thinking is thought to be the most important leadership characteristic of the next five years. In order to do more with less, you need to come up with ideas of how to do more with less. One of the coolest parts of my work at a small nonprofit is sitting down with the CEO and hashing out ideas. Things come up when you work for a small organization that cannot be foreseen: graduate students ask to write a PR plan for you for class, employees stumble upon great new grants that are due next week, community partnerships develop and new events and opportunities arise. When your organization is this flexible, there’s room to be creative, and opportunity is always at your fingertips.

Resourcefulness is a high-demand attribute in both the nonprofit and for-profit world. Though the constant growth and energy often required to work in nonprofits with limited funds may lead to infamous nonprofit burnout, the benefits of this kind of work far outweigh the negatives. The lessons you learn working for an organization that is consistently doing more with less have the potential to pay off over and over again as you continue to lead organizations in the future.

This post is created in conjunction with other members of the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance. Our posts this week (all with “Zilch” in the title), explore perspectives on how nonprofits can do more with less. Check out other members’ posts and get in on twitter conversations regarding these posts by using the hashtag #NMBA.

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Generation Y, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Management, The Small Stuff, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Lessons from Haiti: Mobile Giving in 2010

This post is a prompt by the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance to further increase awareness of the Haiti earthquake and its victims, and highlight take-aways for nonprofit organizations and their supporters.

A (made-up) business card with a call to action.

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti last week, American’s have been publicizing ways to give to those affected by the crisis– and we’ve raised well over 150 million dollars for the cause. 11 million dollars have come from a single donation method: texting. (and this is already outdated! Mashable was encouraging readers to donate in order to raise 20 million dollars by midnight last night through the Red Cross Text Message Campaign alone.)

Folks can donate $10 from their cell phone bill to Red Cross relief efforts by SMS texting “HAITI” to 90999, or donate $5 to Yele Haiti’s Earthquake relief efforts by SMS texting “YELE” to 501501. It’s the cool, new way to give. It’s easy and it adds up. Though this method of giving is not ideal for the Haiti crisis (as funds need to be delivered immediately and may be held up), the widespread popularity of this method of giving offers a new strategy for nonprofits’ to incorporate in their fundraising plans. There’s reason to believe that nonprofits who can work with organizations like the Mobile Giving Foundation to incorporate mobile giving will see, as evidenced through text-based giving to the Haiti crisis, an increase in donations and a new kind of donor. Here’s why:


It’s easy to give through text. The average American sends 14 text messages every day, and as a country, we send 4.1 billion text messages each day. Mobile phone use has continued to increase for years. In order to give, the donor doesn’t even need to get his or her credit card ready. He or she simply sends a text message and the donation is taken from the donor’s cell phone bill. The easier it is to do something, the more likely people are to do it. We all know how to text, so we all know how to give.


Mobile makes it cool to give. Cell phones are providing us with the newest and easiest ways to do everything. You can manage your bank account with your iphone or use it as a GPS. The ability to give via text message is another cool, new way for Americans to use a convenient tool that they already love. It combines technology and giving. There’s instant appeal.


Small donations add up. Donating $10 to Haiti via text message does not sound like a big donation– but American’s have collectively donated over 11 million via text (at the very least); that’s more than 1,100,000 people using their cell phones to donate to Haiti. Nonprofits could, over time, raise a lot of money for their cause. What if nonprofits add the call to action in their e-mail signature or on business cards? It’s an open door to easy giving that can lead to major funding.


Small donations build relationships. A downside to text-based donations is that it is one-way giving. Though it is up to the donor to follow-up and continue to build a relationship with the organization/make themselves known, the first step of the fundraising pyramid has taken place because the donor felt connected to the cause and contributed. Nonprofits should utilize text-based giving to strengthen their fundraising efforts– especially if they are active on Twitter, Facebook, or other types of social media where they have many fans, but are having troubles transforming them into donors.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Lessons Learned, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology 6 Comments