Four New Year’s Resolutions for Nonprofit Innovators

5 min read

2020 was a year for the history books. If you were anything like us, you were excited to kick off the new decade strong, and you had every intention of last year being one of the best yet, until March roared in like a lion and didn’t back down. The coronavirus exposed some of our country’s biggest cracks, which turned out to be more like giant fissures. This was the perfect kindling for the eruption that followed: a summer of social unrest, which brought into sharp focus some of the worst symptoms of racism and racists policies that plague our country. 

While it’s a new year, last year warrants reflection. For many of us, 2020 brought about fundamental shifts in the way we live, work, connect and spend time with others. What caught us off guard? (Many things) What did we get right? What do we wish we could have or would have done differently? How can we use what we’ve learned to run more effective nonprofit organizations, drive more positive change and advance equity and social justice? If you haven’t already, now is a good time to revisit and affirm your nonprofit’s vision, mission and values with the answers to these questions in mind. Then, use your learnings from 2020 to set yourself up for success this year.

Adopt a proactive but agile approach to nonprofit planning

You say, “A plan wouldn’t have done me any good last year, when the pandemic changed nearly every aspect of the way we work.” I hear you. Best-laid plans…However, nonprofits that walked into 2020 with plans fared better than those that didn’t. They pivoted, rather than starting from scratch, and for most, their goals remained the same, it was just how they achieved them that looked different.

In 2021, adopt a proactive but agile approach to planning at every level, from your strategic plan to your marketing and fundraising plans. You’ll be amazed at how having solid plans in place allows you to focus your energies and efforts on your nonprofit’s biggest priorities, while minimizing the anxiety that’s created by reactive, last-minute (often pointless) to-dos.

In 2021, adopt a proactive but agile approach to planning at every level, from your strategic plan to your marketing and fundraising plans. Click To Tweet

As an example, one of our clients started developing a marketing and fundraising plan for 2021 in September of 2020. They weren’t sure whether or not they could rely on their biggest in-person fundraising event of the year, so we planned as if it wouldn’t happen. That way, if it doesn’t, we’re ready, and if it does that’s the best case scenario.

Right now, put pen to paper. What are your organization’s top three to five goals? Then, what will you do each month to support those goals? Calendaring it out provides a simple roadmap for you, your team and your board. Literally, get on the same page.

Center social justice 

The civil unrest of 2020 sparked a powerful movement, but we have a long way to go. We must all commit to centering social justice in our lives and in our work. In May or June, did your organization put out a statement in response to #BlackLivesMatter? What did it say? Have you started to take action on your commitments? Do you have a plan in place for what you will do in 2021 to continue to move the needle? Now is the time to get your board involved in the conversations around EDI, reevaluate your theory of change, recognize that the root cause of so many of our biggest challenges is racism, and take concrete actions to advance racial equity.

Now is the time to get your board involved in the conversations around EDI, reevaluate your theory of change, recognize the root causes of so many of our biggest challenges is racism, and take concrete actions to advance racial equity. Click To Tweet

Formalize stakeholder engagement at your nonprofit

Stakeholder engagement is not only something every organization should do, it’s a key ingredient for empowering community voices and co-creating change. And, it doesn’t have to be hard! Establish a rhythm of at least quarterly engagements with each one of your nonprofit’s stakeholders to get their input and feedback. This can be in the form of a client survey, a donor interview, a community partner focus group or an informal advisory board. These efforts will give voice to those impacted by your organization most and should help you in shaping your programs, services, marketing and fundraising efforts, among many other things.

Practice (transparent) measurement practices

If you haven’t established what success looks like at your organization, now is the time. This starts by developing clear, mission-aligned goals and articulating what success for each goal looks like in practice at your nonprofit. At Prosper, we combine various metrics to assess the overall health and effectiveness of our nonprofit clients. This includes setting objectives and key results (OKRs) that align with your nonprofit strategic plan, developing mission outcome metrics (MOMs) to assess your impact and evaluating your organization’s overall health metrics, based on things like months of cash on hand and new donor acquisition versus attrition.

While measuring success can feel daunting, once you start, you realize how transformative it is to make informed decisions. Sharing your goals and achievements publicly also builds transparency and accountability, so everyone within your organization is rowing in the same direction.

Here’s to a more equitable, healthy, happy, mission-advancing 2021!

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