How To Grow a Nonprofit

Apr 19, 2024 

Disclaimer: Although we do not provide legal advice, we can assist you with your filings and corporate documents and help you apply for 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Visit our service pages to learn more about what Pearl Solutions can offer. 

How to Grow a Nonprofit 

After you’ve gone through the process of setting up a nonprofit organization and securing 501(c)(3) or 501c3 status, it’s time to grow your organization and start making an impact. Keep reading to find our recommendations for how to grow a nonprofit in a sustainable way. 

Establishing a Solid Foundation

In order to grow, you need to build on a solid foundation. When it comes to nonprofits, that means focusing on your mission statement, organizational goals, board of directors, budget, and financial plan. 

Creating a clear mission statement and organizational goals

A clear mission statement is one that easily communicates to supporters and donors what your organization is, who it serves, and how it serves them. 

Here are some examples of clear mission statements:

The Smithsonian Institution 

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

What is The Smithsonian Institution? It’s the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, which includes 21 museums and the National Zoo.

Who does The Smithsonian serve? The nonprofit serves everyone in the world. 

How does it serve them? The Smithsonian shapes the world’s future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources. 

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 

The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion, or a family’s ability to pay.

What is St. Jude? The nonprofit is a children’s research hospital. 

Who does St. Jude serve? It serves children affected by pediatric catastrophic diseases. 

How does St. Jude serve them? St. Jude works to advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases. The organization provides children with treatment regardless of race, religion, or their family’s ability to pay. 

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

The Public Broadcasting Service is a membership organization that, in partnership with its member stations, serves the American public with programming and services of the highest quality, using media to educate, inspire, entertain, and express a diversity of perspectives. PBS empowers individuals to achieve their potential and strengthen the social, democratic, and cultural health of the U.S.

What is PBS? The nonprofit is a membership organization that works alongside member stations. It provides the American public with programming and services with the goal of empowering individuals to achieve their potential and strengthen the social, democratic, and cultural health of the U.S. 

Who does PBS serve? PBS serves the American public.

How does PBS serve them? It provides them with programming and services of the highest quality, using media to educate, inspire, entertain and express a diversity of perspectives. 

After you draft your mission statement, share it with your board of directors, employees, potential supporters, and those you hope to serve. Do they have a clear understanding of what your organization does and how their donation or support helps further your goals? If so, you’re in a good place. If not, keep working on it. 

Developing a strong board of directors

Your board of directors is a group of individuals who help guide and grow your nonprofit. They do this by defining its purpose, supporting the nonprofit CEO and/or founder, assisting in fundraising and financial planning, measuring success, and advising on how to grow the organization. The board must also ensure that the nonprofit is operating in an ethical way and fulfilling legal requirements as determined by the local, state, or federal government. 

While nonprofits have some flexibility when it comes to what their board looks like—who can serve on it, how many members you have, how often the board meets—there are certain requirements that board members must meet as they perform their duties. 

So, how do you choose your board members? How do you develop a strong board? Start by thinking about people you trust to give advice on business, fundraising, and/or your specific cause. When in doubt, talk to other nonprofit founders and ask them how they went about choosing their board members. 

Tip: One of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of a board is to make sure members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Define these in your bylaws or articles of incorporation and, if necessary, with a contract you draw up with board members. 

Effective budgeting and financial planning

In order to grow, you need to determine what growth looks like and what financial assets it will take to grow in that way. For example, let’s say you want to grow by creating a new program. How much will it cost to bring that program to life? This should be taken into account in your budget and added to your strategic plan. By keeping your growth plan in mind, you can set accurate fundraising goals and develop strategies to meet those goals.

Building a Donor Base

In order to make an impact, you have to find a group of people to provide your organization with financial support. This group is also known as your donor base.

Identifying potential donors and major gift prospects

How you bring in new donors will depend on how your organization raises funds or what “works” for you and your supporters. Have you found success through posting links to donate on social media or throwing local events? Have you seen an increase in new donors with direct mail campaigns? Look at what has worked for you in the past and see how you can amplify those efforts. You should also test out new means of fundraising to see if there are other avenues that will attract new donors to you. 

When it comes to major gifts, you first need to determine what the minimum threshold is or what constitutes a major gift. To identify major donor prospects, look at your existing audience and focus on the people who are close to that threshold. When the time is right, ask them to make another, larger donation and become a major donor. 

In order to identify new major donors, talk to your board members and others in your community. Do they know of people or organizations looking to make major gifts? Do any of those people or organizations have a personal connection to your mission or have goals that are similar to yours? They may make good major donor candidates.

Cultivating relationships with individual donors and major donors

Identifying donors is one thing, but it’s not the only key to fundraising success. Once you know who they are, you have to cultivate meaningful relationships with them. 

The more connected someone is to your organization, the more likely they are to donate to support your cause. This isn’t that different from growing relationships on a personal level. You want to show that you care about the person beyond what they can provide to you and that you know what matters to them. You can do this in many ways, but an important one is to engage with them throughout the year—not just when you’re soliciting a donation. 

An important thing to keep in mind is to never assume that you know what motivates someone to give. Sometimes it’s best to reach out to hear from them directly. You might notice that certain “asks” are more effective than others. 

While every donation counts and all donors are important, you usually have to invest more time with someone in order to convince them to invest more deeply in your nonprofit. If you have the capacity, you may want to hire someone whose main responsibility is building relationships with major donors and major donor prospects. 

Finally, make sure all donors know exactly how their donations are used and how their funds move your mission forward. This will help them feel an even deeper connection to the work you do and will likely motivate them to give again. 

Engaging with the donor community through targeted social strategies

Some nonprofits see more donations come in offline through things like direct mail campaigns, but many nonprofits today see a significant amount of donations come through online. One way to increase your online support is to engage with your donors on social media. 

Before you go “all in” on one channel, remember that it’s important to go where your donors and future donors are. You might want to focus all of your time on X (formerly Twitter), for example, but that may not be the best use of your resources if most of your donors spend time on Instagram.

Once you know where they are, come up with targeted social strategies to engage with them. This might include sharing links to your donation pages, telling stories about the people you serve, or buying ads that will educate and inspire them to learn more about the work you do.

When considering your online fundraising strategies, think beyond social media. How are you engaging with your donor community via email? What opportunities are you not taking advantage of? How can you start to interact with them and cultivate deeper relationships via that channel? 

Given the ever-changing nature of online media and platforms, flexibility is key. Measure your success throughout the year. If you realize that a certain strategy isn’t working for one platform, try a new tactic. 

Fundraising Efforts

Here’s how you can grow your nonprofit through your fundraising efforts. 

Developing a comprehensive fundraising plan

The best way to meet your goals is to sit down with your board members and other stakeholders and develop a comprehensive fundraising plan. Your plan should include different tactics and strategies to target new and existing donors. Think about who your donors are and how you communicate with them. How will you reach offline donors? What about online ones? How will you engage with them over the course of the year?

Make sure you choose fundraising strategies that “pay off” or that are worth the expense. For example, if you want to throw a fundraising event but find that you won’t bring in enough funds to cover the cost of renting a venue or paying for catering, that isn’t a good use of your resources. 

You can have the most comprehensive plan in the world, but it will only work if you can execute it successfully. Once everyone is in agreement on how to move forward, determine who will be responsible for each strategy and how they will measure success. 

Generating campaign support and awareness

In order to bring in new donors or drive more excitement among existing donors, create nonprofit marketing campaigns that will educate and inspire your supporters. One way to do this is to take advantage of existing “awareness days.” 

For example, if your cause is supporting spay and neuter clinics, you can create a campaign that takes place on National Pet Day, National Dog Day, or National Cat Day. When posting on social media, create a hashtag for your campaign or use an existing one so people interested in that cause can find your posts. 

You can only reach so many people on your own. To generate awareness, think of how you can engage your existing supporters and motivate them to get their friends and family members to learn more about your cause or make a donation. You can do this through something like a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. 

Utilizing online donation platforms and email marketing to reach a wider audience

If you use an online fundraising platform, you can create donation pages on your website and add donate buttons in different places. You can also raise money through social media platforms by using their existing tools. 

For example, if you want to raise money through Instagram, you have a couple of options. You can add a link in your profile or your story and direct people to a donation page. When possible, ask people to share links to your website, campaign pages, or donation pages so your content reaches a wider audience. If you take the necessary steps and are eligible, you can also encourage people to add a donation sticker to their story and solicit donations from their followers. 

As for emails, think about the ones you get from for-profit businesses. How do they engage with you? How do they inspire you to buy their products or educate you about their company? You can use the same principles that they do when interacting with your audience. 

The key here is to communicate with your supporters on a regular basis and do so in a way that shows you value them as people and not just as people who donate. Don’t just email them when you want a donation; reach out regularly to update them on how their support is making an impact on the cause and what your plans are for the future. If you’re looking to apply for and win a world-changing grant, we’d love to support you. Learn more about the grant proposal writing services we provide at Pearl Solutions.