How Development Can Help Your Nonprofit Evolve

By Cogeo Staff

When thinking about the nonprofit world, the word fundraising likely comes to mind. As it should! Fundraising is crucial for a nonprofit to survive. Unfortunately, that is exactly what most nonprofits are currently doing -- surviving. About 94% of the nonprofit organizations in the United States operate with under $500,000 in annual revenue and have less than  $500,000 in total assets.

Most people want to see this philanthropic side of humanity be successful, and yet the majority of nonprofits are stuck in survival mode. Their path of growth and evolution has hit a roadblock. So, why is it that the vast majority of nonprofits are struggling to thrive? Likely, it’s because their leadership is focused on simplistic fundraising rather than putting their time, energy, and attention into development. Within the large percent of nonprofits that cannot seem to raise their annual revenue or assets, 90% do not operate formalized development programs. While they probably host fundraisers of some kind or another, they do not have a development strategy in place. 

Many may be wondering what the difference is between fundraising and development, especially since they tie together so nicely and it’s rare to hear one without the other. While they do support each other, fundraising can be considered the transactional side of development. Development is the act of growing an organization through relationships. Development is the slow burn; the long-term process of creating genuine, powerful connections with the right people. A proper development strategy will include educating, cultivating, and stewarding prospects and donors. Rather than being boiled down to an event or a project, development is about people -- relationships, connections, and networks.

Start your development journey with Cogeo’s introductory webinar!

Work smarter, not harder

Once a nonprofit transitions from an idea to a legal reality, it’s rare that resources just start falling from the sky. Instead, what tends to happen is a group of busy but determined individuals get together to try to push this dream along. They normally have little time or energy to donate, so it’s crucial to engage them in the most efficient way.

Those who choose to implement a development culture are prioritizing themselves and their team. They are focusing on their most accessible asset -- the affinity for the organization. This genuine starting point will be the drive for outreach. It will boost the leadership’s messaging, drive networking, and the willingness to educate others about the organization. 

Talking. Meeting. Building relationships. These come easily when a team believes in and has a strong affinity for the foundation of the conversation -- the nonprofit itself. This is also the most organic and natural way to build a network and create a core leadership team to continually introduce the organization to well-connected or affluent people.

Make a real impact

Speaking of affluent people, it helps to know some! By drilling into development and building relationships gradually, any nonprofit is bound to find itself some deep-pocketed friends at some point. This is key. People with money tend to know and spend time with other people with money. These connections may have an affinity for the organization, could possibly be a part of a foundation with grant opportunities, or could introduce the organization to some prominent players that could change the future of the nonprofit.

Building a proper network takes time, but reaching even one or two of the right people can make an incredible impact, which is the reason for the nonprofit in the first place, right? There are too many organizations out there overworked with too little to show for their efforts. Focusing on development will turn what seems like a pipe dream into an attainable goal. 

Stick around for the long-haul

It is impossible to implement a development plan without thinking five, ten, even twenty years into the future of an organization. Unlike a fundraiser that can start and stop with a single project, development revolves around the donor, their lifespan, and even beyond. The process of collecting, tracking, and stewarding donors for the long-term will have a ripple effect that will help the sustainability of a nonprofit. So, if an organization chooses to embark on the development journey and trust the process, it can be expected to not only survive for a significant time, but also continue to grow and evolve for years to come.

Stop wasting time, get started

If you are involved with a nonprofit that you want to see thrive, creating a culture of development is something you should absolutely consider. Is it easy work? No. But if you’re thinking about where you want your nonprofit to be in the next five years, and you want to think BIG, then Cogeo welcomes you to learn more about development and the building blocks needed to create a solid development strategy.

Download Cogeo’s Introduction to the House of Development webinar