Recommendations from the recent CEO Consortium
From Michael J. Tomlinson (MT), CEO and President, BDI
“Every year we start at zero.” While that may sound like staring up at a steep and slightly nerve-wracking mountain to climb, the reality is that we do it every year. There are new and passionate partners to engage, exciting challenges to overcome and the profound privilege to connect opportunity with capacity for increased impact.
For the second year, I participated in a CEO Consortium, which recently brought together chief leaders across both for-profit and nonprofit industries. Last year we identified four universal challenges leaders were facing as the world emerged from lockdowns and pandemic protocols. This year’s summit left us with more bright spots and reasons for hope, even amidst some new hurdles we never anticipated.
I brought this year’s findings back to my team and BDI’s Board, who agreed that these are worthy points for discussion and dissemination with our nonprofit partners. As we navigate operations in this post-COVID world, I’ve identified 3 external factors CEOs should focus on to ensure stability and longevity for their organizations.
External Factor #1: Greater market competition
Competition is fierce as we reach and try to connect with customers and donors in the new reality of a flatter world that is yet strongly digitally connected. Markets today are more accessible and are not regionally confined. Donors are likely to give to a local organization… and may also send donations to support international relief in a country they’ve never visited but see online.
In the information age, we trust that our donors are educated and capable of self-research, and so we respect their choices. However, careful and well-positioned communications on your part can positively impact their choice to support your organization.
As you face greater competition for donors, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your unique value proposition? In other words, what value does your organization provide that no one else does or can?
- What other organizations can you collaborate with? (CEOs agreed that organizations that are open to working together for the greater good are often perceived as more secure.)
One of BDI’s client partners was able to expand their impact – and their network of support – through strategic partnerships with other nonprofit organizations in their community. The Fresno Mission provides meals, safe shelter and recovery services to people struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction in their community. But they were looking to do more.
The Fresno Mission partnered with the Central California Food Bank to launch a free food market where people in need could come to “shop” for grocery items, free of charge.
Instead of seeing a local food bank as a “competitor,” the Fresno Mission’s innovative partnership is helping to solve hunger in their community while expanding their reputation as an organization that is focused on addressing their city’s greatest needs.
External Factor #2: Greater demand for integrity and inclusion
In the wake of sociopolitical and cultural divisions that have weighed heavily on our collective society, organizations that seek to make donors “feel good” and acknowledge their impact are getting the lion’s share of attention.
Regardless of size, organizations that feel approachable, trustworthy and inclusive stand out as fundamentally different from big government and other institutions known for controlling, manipulating and even marginalizing the vulnerable public.
How can you humanize your organization and build trust with your donors?
- In your communications, avoid biased language and share testimonies of the people you serve using inclusive, people-first language that focuses more on an individual’s transformation instead of identifying them with their struggles.
- Develop a code of ethics to guide the fundraising and marketing practices of your organization, as well as the conduct of your leadership and team.
- Give your donors peace of mind by ensuring that you follow cybersecurity best practices when dealing with and storing sensitive information.
Remember: Your donors are only human – and you are too! Cultivate authentic relationships with your community of supporters and make every effort to deliver on your word.
External Factor #3: Greater expectations from donors… and opportunities!
Across their industries, CEOs agreed that more than ever, the customer (donor) is in control. Expectations are rigorous. However, generally people do seem willing to pay or give more where impact is amplified. This is good news for nonprofits.
As donors’ expectations are met, loyalty rises… and with that, comes opportunities to upgrade their support.
If you’re currently meeting donors’ expectations, here are the next steps you should take:
- Ask for additional support, as your value proposition allows. Once you’ve successfully communicated what sets your organization apart, consider asking for additional gifts from those donors who have proven their investment in your cause. Right now, rising costs are a universal truth understood by donors and consumers alike, but not everyone is strapped for cash. Don’t be afraid to invite them to deepen their commitment.
- Determine a strategy for upgrading donors. As CEOs and chief leaders, we must invest the time and resources to analyze who, specifically, are our most and least profitable donors. Then:
- Plan how (or whether) to communicate with non-active donors.
- Develop a plan to aggressively pursue more “passionate advocates” – major donors, volunteers, churches and corporate partners.
- Get clarity about your “majority middle.” Which way will these donors lean? Can you move them up and in, or are they destined to stay where they are?
Too often, organizations cater to their middle market, leading them to settle for mediocrity and “just enough” support to scrape by. When you settle, you’re never truly secure, are always fearful and risk missing out on the good things God has planned for your organization when you step out in faith. At BDI, we’re committed to helping our client partners reach their greatest potential for even greater impact.
I hope you’re encouraged – as I am – that each of these 3 external factors impacting our organizations today comes with a solution (or several!). If you have any questions about the recommendations I’ve made or would like help with any challenges your leadership currently faces, our team at BDI would be glad to walk alongside you.
Next month, I’ll be turning our focus inward to discuss the internal factors our CEO Consortium identified as worthy of consideration. Stay tuned for their recommendations on the systems, operations and talent needed to weather the current climates in business and philanthropy. Until then… onward.