A cross-disciplinary team of nonprofit experts—Suzanne Smith of Social Impact Architects, Kim Bulger of Atigro, John Gillespie of CRCFO, and Susan Kelly of Kelly Strategies—conducted a survey of nonprofits in January 2021 to better understand the challenges facing the social sector and uncover their top priorities.
According to the survey, many nonprofits were initially focused on “survival” in 2020, however, nonprofits are now embracing an optimistic growth outlook with 70 percent expecting growth in 2021. Each organization’s experience was unique; some faced drastic revenue declines and related staff reductions, while others experienced a surge in need resulting in increased revenues.
“For nonprofits, due to COVID, the rules of the game have changed and it presents an opportunity to “leapfrog”—adopting new and more innovative approaches to their mission, operations and culture,” Suzanne Smith, Founder and CEO of Social Impact Architects, said in a statement.
Social Impact Architects, a nonprofit that works with social changemakers to create solutions to social issues, is led by Smith. The organization provides consulting and learning experiences to the social sector, as well as tools and expertise to increase community impact.
As a social entrepreneur, Smith serves as a consultant to nonprofits, the government, and foundations on strategic planning, growth strategies, and social impact. In addition, Smith is a professor at both the University of Texas at Arlington and Pepperdine University, where she stresses the importance of social innovation in her social entrepreneurship courses.
Smith says she is dedicated to harnessing the powerful force of organizations including nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible businesses, along with individuals, especially students and young entrepreneurs, to maximize the potential of the social sector to create an impact.
Through the surveys conducted by Smith and other experts, the team found that beneath each obstacle lies an opportunity for the social sector to rise to the occasion collectively.
Hundreds joined a follow-up webinar to understand and share the survey results and discuss action-oriented advice on next steps for both nonprofits and funders.
Participants report that they walked away from the webinar inspired and activated, with one commenting, “I was stuck before, but now I see a light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to putting these ideas into action in 2021.”
Per a statement, some of the trends found through the survey included:
- Right-sizing planning for 2021 around “battle plans” instead of strategic plans – recognizing change will continue
- Moving upstream to start solving problems at the source through coordinated community strategies
- Advancing equity as a core value
- Prioritizing on donor retention and truly excellent stewardship
- Shifting business models to both scale impact and to create financial sustainability
- Focusing on “less is more” with many nonprofits concentrating on what they do best instead of returning to all pre-COVID activities
- Embracing “digital first” for program delivery and audience engagement
The term “The Great Nonprofit Reset” was coined by experts offering suggestions to both nonprofits and funders, including these:
- Conduct a NEW needs assessment with paired measures (i.e., quantitative, qualitative) to understand what your customers really need now to achieve your mission
- Focus on improving systems efficiency in all areas of the business to streamline operations and to reduce operating expenses
- Ensure your development infrastructure—donation functions, prospect tracking, reporting—are functional and intuitive
- Update messaging to deliver value relevant to new needs and reflect urgency
- Audit your website for mobile-first, search-optimized, fast load and conversion
- Integrate “trust-based philanthropy” into your grants strategy
- Support capacity-building funding for consultant expertise, technology updates and other critical nonprofits gaps
- Encourage and guide donor-advised fund holders to unlock additional funds for general operating and programmatic purposes
- Consider shared services arrangements for smaller nonprofits to share bookkeepers, CPAs and CFOs with nonprofit expertise
- Provide streamlined board recruitment, student internship and skills-based volunteer recruitment opportunities specific to nonprofit sector
Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.
Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.