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Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 1

Nonprofits do a lot of things well, particularly making our world a better place. Many nonprofits, however, could do an even better job of pursuing their missions and raising more funds if they avoid the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Mistakes 1-4 are listed below, in no particular order. Mistakes 5-13 will appear in articles published in November and December 2014.

1. Failing to help people find you online

There was a time when nonprofits used to have to search for virtually all their donors, volunteers, clients, staff, board members, event attendees, partners, and even grants. Now there's a new paradigm in which those people are increasingly trying to find you online. Even when you pursue these people the old-fashioned way—say by meeting them at a networking event—no matter how effective a job you do of convincing them of the merits of your nonprofit, sometime after that encounter they will probably try to find you online. If they can't find you online, or if they are underwhelmed by what they do find, the chances of them supporting you or engaging with you diminish.

Inbound marketing is a collection of techniques designed to help people—the right people—find you online. Inbound marketing has three overriding goals. First, maximize the number of people who find you online. Second, maximize the quality of those leads—otherwise you might get a lot of tire-kickers. Finally, maximize your conversion rate—that is, the percentage of your online visitors who become "converted" into donors, volunteers, or into doing the other things you want them to do. Since most nonprofits have an online conversion rate of 0 to 2 percent, inbound marketing can only help them improve.

Here are some of the key inbound marketing techniques:

  1. Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO includes techniques within your website to boost your search engine standing and thereby help you get more traffic to and support through your website.
  2. Search engine marketing (SEM): SEM is like SEO but includes techniques external to your website.
  3. Pay-per-click (PPC): PPC enables you to buy your way to the top of the search engine standings. Through Google Grants, most nonprofits can easily get a grant entitling them to up to $10,000 per month in free Google AdWords.
  4. Content creation: You should be consistently creating fresh, relevant content—and posting it to your website, social media, blog, e-newsletter, and articles.

2. Not measuring outcomes

Nonprofits typically need to do a better job of setting goals—and then creating/deploying strategies to achieve those goals. Furthermore, each of those strategies and techniques should be measured periodically. Those that prove effective should be continued. Those that are ineffective should either be tweaked so they become effective or discontinued and replaced with other techniques.

Here are potential areas for which you may want to establish goals:

  1. # clients served
  2. $ raised (online, offline, and total)
  3. # event attendees
  4. # website visitors
  5. # e-mail list subscribers
  6. # Twitter followers
  7. # Facebook likes

Each of your goals should be specific, measurable, and attainable.

3. Failing to attract board members beyond your inner circle, and failing to hold them accountable

Some nonprofits recruit board members from the close circle of friends or colleagues of existing board members and management. This may be an effective and convenient place to start but should not be the end of looking for good board members. For example, nonprofits should be recruiting board members online, especially via LinkedIn and other social media connections. You may want to use professional board recruiters as well.

Hold board members accountable for the results they achieve. This means setting and measuring goals, as discussed above. It also means making each board member responsible for a specific amount of fundraising. If a prospective donor finds out that some of your board members don't donate, he or she may question why he/she should donate. Take this objection off the table by requiring each board member to "give or get" a specific amount.

Each board member should sign up for (or get assigned) specific tasks with designated outcomes.

Hold some board meetings via webinar. Board members are often busy and difficult to schedule in the same place at the same time. So hold some of your board meetings via webinar—either with or without webcams, screen sharing, and slides. They'll be able to participate from wherever they happen to be, as long as they have Internet access—even through their mobile phones.

4. Not paying for performance

The way an employee performs is often highly correlated with the way he or she is compensated. Most nonprofit employees, especially development and executive directors, have little or none of their pay tied to performance-related goals. Each employee should have specific, attainable, measure goals that are directly correlated with his or her compensation. This principle should apply to management, staff, and consultants. Even though they are not paid, board members and volunteers may become more productive if their goals are made more in alignment with your nonprofit's goals.

Top-Strategic-Mistakes-Nonprofits-Make-Part-1_Allan-Pressel.jpgAllan Pressel, PowerSite123
© 2014, PowerSite123

Allan Pressel is CEO of PowerSite123, which helps nonprofits create world-class websites, social media, SEO, and marketing. Allan is a world-renowned ePhilanthropy speaker. Allan is co-author of Internet Management for Nonprofits. He was given the Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. Allan was co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO. Feel free to contact Allan with any questions at (310) 363-0095 or

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice