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Rethinking Revenue

May 10, 2018

Nonprofits & Associations


Pat Nicklin, Executive Vice President

Before your nonprofit drafts its next business plan, I urge you to take a few minutes and grab a blank sheet of paper.

First: Map out which organizations out there are doing similar work. Then consider: What will your team uniquely bring to this issue?

In short: What will your measurable impact be?

That answer should guide everything — your business strategy, your structure and staffing, your communications, your creative materials, your partnership outreach. Everything. It might even reveal that you’d be better off joining forces with another organization, that the space is already too crowded, or that your solution is missing a critical piece.

Every day, thousands of organizations, governments, and individuals work to address serious social problems — poverty, hunger, poor education, environmental degradation. This is wonderful: People are taking issues into their own hands and, in some cases, making a very real impact.

But a larger question persists: Are you going about this the right way? Are too many organizations focused on the same issues, fighting for the same resources and fundraising dollars? Are competition and a lack of cooperation ultimately holding us back? 

Think about how overwhelmed donors must be. Then imagine how much stronger your case for support would be if you could offer solutions — an impact — that cuts to the heart of the issue. Imagine how much stronger your case would be if you could present a social impact “return on investment.”

When a small group of us worked with Bread for the World to start the Alliance to End Hunger over a decade ago, our vision was to build the nonpartisan political and public will to end hunger. As vice chair and head of the development committee, I saw how we sometimes struggled to meet budget in a crowded anti-hunger nonprofit field. Our saving grace was our relentless focus on advocating for the best legislative solutions, such as the Global Food Security Act and a strong Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

But the secret sauce has been using the power of the “we” to advocate at the state, federal, and international levels. We realized that our goal could be achieved only in partnership. Now the Alliance has almost 100 nonprofit and corporate members — organizations like Sodexo and Rise Against Hunger — whose own programs provide solutions to hunger all over the world, and whose membership dollars also support the core operations and budget of the Alliance. The nonprofit has helped launch and support over a hundred “Hunger Free Communities” in the United States, totally run by volunteers, and it “replicated itself” by helping to launch six international Alliances to End Hunger in Uganda and other African countries. 

That was the impact we were striving toward. And we embraced it with our name — the Alliance to End Hunger. We embraced it in the way we reached out to partners and foundations, showing them exactly how their support would play a crucial role. Now their goal is to end hunger in the world by 2030, a goal shared by many others through a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the U.N. and others all around the world.

Let your goal — your impact — be your North Star. Don’t be afraid of it. Find a way to put it into words, and then let that guide everything that follows.                                                                                          

Pat Nicklin is the executive vice president of purpose-driven Marketing at Reingold, where she leads cause marketing campaigns and builds partnerships with funders. She is a former nonprofit leader, serving as managing director at Share Our Strength for 12 years.

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