If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to lay the groundwork for a successful new year. Here are 3 steps you can take to help ensure success in 2019.
1. Reconsider how your organization raises funds.
Many small or new nonprofits think “small” about fundraising. They identify a local chain restaurant, for example, that will give a percentage of the sales on a specified evening. While this is less labor-intensive than other types of fundraising, it may not offer the most bang for the buck.
Perhaps it’s time for your nonprofit to graduate to the types of fundraising that more established nonprofits use, including an appeal letter. Nonprofits send these letters because they work. Yes, you’ll have to write the letter, stuff the envelopes, and affix address labels, but for small organizations, the work is usually minimal because the mailing list is typically small. And a $100 investment of paper and postage could bring in $2,000 or more in donations! But money isn’t all you’ll get out of your annual appeal. The responses you receive can provide clues as to who might have the potential to give larger gifts in the future. With this information, you can begin building relationships that could have substantial payoffs later on.
2. Plan now to ensure legal compliance.
Your nonprofit, regardless of size or income—or lack of income—is required to file an annual financial report with the Internal Revenue Service, and in Massachusetts, with the Attorney General’s Office (other states may require filing with a different state agency). About a third of nonprofits are small and file a 990-N with IRS, which contains no financial information. All other nonprofits must file a 990-EZ or the full 990. In Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s Office requires submission of the 990-EZ when a nonprofit has more than $5,000 in gross income during the year. These filings are due 4½ months after the close of the fiscal year, or May 15, for calendar fiscal years.
The board of directors is responsible for ensuring timely and accurate filings and so should review the reports before submission. Distributing the reports and allowing time for review and approval means some careful planning now, especially if your board meets less frequently.
3. Set some goals.
Without goals, your nonprofit is a ship drifting aimlessly at sea. Specific, attainable goals provide guidance and direction for all of your organization’s activities.
Boards of directors should assess 2018’s performance against its strategic and annual plans, if they have them, and set new goals in view of the new year’s action plan. (Strategic plans should always include annual action plans, but that’s another post!) At a minimum, the board should engage in some simple goal-setting, perhaps following a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis activity, and of course, develop a strategic plan if they do not already have one. (One goal—see #1 above—should be to gather names and contact information for a first appeal letter, or to update the existing list.)
The Legal Center for Nonprofits offers “entry level” strategic planning and goal-setting assistance; contact us for more information.