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How to Make an Impact at a Nonprofit

People join nonprofits for lots of reasons. Often it’s from a desire to give back to the community or passionately support a cause. Other times a person is new to the community and wants to make some connections. This often leads a membership in a local business organization. People exclusively looking for clients might join a networking group.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Regardless if you join for noble reasons or to develop business connections, two things often occur. First, you attend meetings but don’t seem to make the right connections. In the Chamber, everyone else is asking you for your business! At the other extreme, they want you to serve as treasurer or join the finance committee. You have a skill and they want it for free. This takes time. It might involve legal liability. It sets a precedent.

Three Opportunities
If you joined to support the cause or make friends, you want to meet other people. If you are looking to gain name recognition for your firm and yourself in the community, you have the same objective. Just joining and showing up isn’t enough. You need to serve on one of the right committees, but there are many of them. You might end up stuffing envelopes for mailings or writing articles for the newsletter and these are important tasks, but don’t put you in front of either large numbers of members or the handful of influential ones.

Most organizations have functionality overlap, but three common initiatives are membership, fundraising and event planning. All three put you on the revenue side of the equation. This gets the attention of the leadership. One is usually in crisis.

  • Membership This is a recurring revenue stream for many organizations. Once they sign up a member, the renewal rate is pretty high. You will be one of the gatekeepers. You may meet new members as they join and since they don’t initially know anyone, you solve this problem by introducing them around. How will you get new members? Learn about campaigns done previously. Have board members ever been asked to each host a group of friends at their home for drinks and tell the organization’s story? The nonprofit will likely supply a staff member to do the presenting. Their friends sign up as members. You are a hero.
  • Fundraising a.k.a. Development This keeps the lights on and funds their charitable activities. Often this involves event sponsorship or applying for grants and organizing teams of volunteers to ask local businesses for support. It’s far easier to get in front of many of these businesses with a charitable appeal vs. a straight approach for their business. It’s also a lot easier when asking for money to explain that you are on the board.
  • Event Planning Depending on the organization, this may have flexible time requirements. You could be involved one day a week or one day a year. It’s your choice. Many organizations plan galas, golf outings, art shows and garden parties. It’s all about creating a fundraising environment. An interesting niche to consider is solicitation of items for the live and silent auctions, a staple at most events. Once again, you are meeting with community leaders or established local families. They either run successful businesses, are C-suite executives who can commit the firm’s money or simply very wealthy. You serve as part of a team and attend the event as their donated item raises funds for a good cause.

If you can connect yourself to the revenue side of the equation and deliver results, you will attract lots of positive attention. And if you have solved a problem for the organization, like cleaning up the books or implementing some processes, you are on your way to becoming indispensable. You meet plenty of the right people that way.

Image: iStock/marekuliasz