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Blog: Managing Growth in Nonprofits: What You Need to Know

Managing Growth in Nonprofits: What You Need to Know

One of the fundamental imperative for nonprofits is the need to grow — in spite of the many challenges they face. Often, keeping your organization on a solid growth path requires maintaining a clear-eyed, comprehensive view of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. These insights are crucial to not only overcoming growth obstacles, but also to anticipating where trends are heading, and taking proactive steps at a time when they can be most effective.

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It’s been observed that the most difficult concept for a fish to understand may be that of water itself. In other words, it’s often difficult to see one’s organization with enough perspective to truly understand the environment that surrounds and defines you.

While a lack of self-awareness can be limiting for an individual, for an organization it can be much more significant — and even stand in the way of growth. In this post, I’ll look at four key areas in which gaining additional insight can make a measurable difference in managing growth in nonprofits.

1. Know your revenue situation and tools

Some of the most commonly tracked metrics in managing growth in nonprofits include total dues and non-dues revenue, and renewal rates. Additional revenue metrics could include sales of any intellectual property your organization creates, such as industry survey results/analysis, the effectiveness of various marketing messages, and so on.

Fortunately, association management systems (AMS), and accounting systems more broadly, are designed specifically to offer these types of insights, in a variety of formats. So if you’re not getting the insights you feel you need, consult with your accounting team to identify ways to improve the information you’re receiving.

2. Know your members and their needs

Insight into members and their needs is perhaps the most essential type of knowledge a member organization can have. It’s also one that can change over time, so it’s a good strategy to update your findings regularly. For example, what mattered most to your members in 2019 may bear little resemblance to what they care about most now as their businesses continue to emerge from the recent economic downturn.

It’s also important to understand not only what services your members want from your organization, but also how and when they prefer to engage with your organization. Insights into the types of involvement members prefer, and at what age or career points they engage with you, can help you finetune your membership and engagement lifecycle, so that you can remain relevant to members throughout their careers. In addition, there are often meaningful differences in needs between members of one generation and then next, regardless of where an individual may be in their own career.

Last but not least, managing growth in nonprofits relies on having an accurate understanding of how your organization is perceived by both members as well as non-members. If you haven’t conducted a survey of such perceptions recently, you may be unaware of changes that could affect your ability to attract and retain members.

3. Your competitive landscape

Some association professionals may find it odd to think about their organization as having competition. But even if you’re the only association serving professionals in your given field, those professionals still have other options. With the broad success of platforms such as LinkedIn and others, members may be able to create their own professional network. Still others may find that subscribing to key industry publications, user groups, or news feeds can serve to keep them in touch with important trends and issues.

For this reason, conducting competitive analyses, focus groups, and surveys can help you understand where your organization fits as an option for members — and how to convey your unique value proposition to both members and non-members.

4. Your internal processes and efficiencies — and where they can be improved

At a more fundamental level, your organization’s growth depends on continually improving core processes — beginning with any functions that constitute a “touch” experienced by your members. It pays to periodically review processes for any disconnects or bottlenecks, and address them before they become issues that affect members’ experiences when interacting with you.

Not only does improving efficiencies in this way help you respond better and faster to members, but doing so also helps you reduce error, waste and rework. Therefore, at a minimum you need to review any areas where you’re experiencing problems, and look for technology or other solutions that can help you generate better results.

The stakes are high — so start addressing your knowledge gaps today

By recognizing any areas where your organization’s knowledge comes up short, and acting to gather the missing information, you can make better decisions on behalf of your members and create a better value proposition. At a time when your members may be reevaluating every expense, including their membership fees, following these recommendations can mean the difference between just hanging on, and staying on a steady path of growth.

For more information and insight about growing your nonprofit, feel free to contact Vault Consulting.

Mike Hayes, MBA
Mike Hayes, MBA
Mike Hayes is a Principal and Managing Director at Vault Consulting, LLC. He has 20 years of experience serving the nonprofit industry, providing survey research and highly complex data analysis. He works closely...
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Wes Tomer, CPA, CGMA
Wes Tomer, CPA, CGMA
Wes is focused on leading Vault’s strategic efforts as the nation’s leading accounting and research firm for nonprofits and associations. He is committed to positioning Vault’s integrated specialized services to provide best-in-class solutions...
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Ian Santo Domingo, MBA
Ian Santo Domingo, MBA
Ian has been leading teams in the association industry for over two decades, including a decade of leading auditing efforts for a tech industry event with hundreds of thousands in attendance. He embraces the...
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