Some funders, constituents, and nonprofit staff think of growth as prioritizing “money over mission,” viewing it from a traditional corporate focus on just revenue growth, excessive spend, or increase in size. This definition can lead people to scrutinize nonprofit investment in marketing, talent, operations, technology, and other overhead areas that are actually necessary to support a healthy and sustainable model for change. This is also known as the “overhead myth.”
We all know nonprofits today face ever-changing needs from their constituents who are at the heart of their mission, which require agility to stay relevant. People are adopting modern technologies and spending their time in new digital spaces. Nonprofits are constantly responding to opportunities, threats, and changes, and yet they are limited in their ability to respond if they cannot grow and evolve in many different ways.
Growth might mean scaling your capacity to keep up with demand. Marketing your cause to create a social movement. Replicating your model to help another zip code. Securing that grant to cure a disease. There are a million ways to grow for good.
This is why for many nonprofit professionals, “growth” has taken on a more positive meaning, evolving past revenue into all parts of your mission. They focus on balanced growth so that strategic marketing efforts can be turned into efficient program participation, effective fundraising, and sustainable impact. All without bottlenecks, waste, or frivolous spending.
For this blog we asked a few small nonprofit professionals, “What does growth mean to you?” Here are their answers. To learn more, visit our new Growing Nonprofit webpage with content for small and developing nonprofits.
Growing to Scale Program Impact
Michelle Brown, Executive Director, Commonlit
“Growth means ensuring meaningful participation in programs. We are serving 4.9 million registered student and teachers but only 20 staff. We have been able to use Salesforce to grow our programs and scale our team’s efforts, to ultimately increase our impact on student outcomes.”
Commonlit is a free online reading program that helps students develop the advanced reading and writing skills they need to secure a high wage job in a fast changing economy. They are in over 48,000 schools, reaching their first 1 million users as fast as the social networking site Facebook did.
They use Pardot’s Engagement Studio to communicate thousands of targeted emails every day to teachers, students, and partners. For teachers, these emails nudge them to use better instructional practices, provide grades, and give personalized feedback helping students and teachers on a personalized learning journey, without the need to add additional staff members.
“We can look at the statistics captured in Pardot to measure the impact of these nudges on student reading growth over time. And we can take this impact metrics and communicate them to a broader external audience, like our donors and partners. My vision is that we will be able to use predictive analytics to determine when a child is on a failure path in reading and use that data to alert parents, administrators and school leaders before it’s too late.”
According to a 2018 study by Salesforce Research on Nonprofit Trends, 77% of nonprofits report an increased need for their programs and services, but only 51% see an increase in the number of donations.
Growth in Member Engagement
Eduardo A. Ruiz, Senior Director of Information Technology, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)
“Sales and revenue are not our primary drivers… we focus heavily on growth in engagement at every touch point throughout our members lifecycle. We segment clients based on the size of school, how many graduates they have, and other attributes to drive targeted emails, helping us now expand into the undergraduate world.”
ASPPH is a membership organization who’s mission is to strengthen the capacity of members by advancing leadership, excellence, and collaboration for academic public health. After consolidating multiple marketing automation tools they will be able to integrate campaigns and communications that have awareness of custom objects like* *institutional demographics, degree offerings, meeting attendance and event participation in CRM, to automate far more communications without adding headcount.
“As nonprofits we have such scarce resources, we have to maximize our spend. As we bring on new technology projects with Salesforce it’s clicks not code. From when we decided to commit to Pardot to going live was under a month, and we have barely scratched the surface in terms of automating our touch points with members.”
Growth in Clients Served and Case Outcomes
Adrian Tirtanadi, Executive Director, Open Door Legal
“We are a nonprofit law firm practicing across 35 areas of law, with clients coming to us with complex and life-changing cases. Growth for us means scaling our services into more neighborhoods and achieving successful outcomes for our clients as efficiently as possible. We leverage cloud-based platforms to scale case processes and knowledge to staff and pro bono lawyers.”
Open Door Legal’s mission is on a mission to show that poverty will be dramatically reduced when everyone has access to the law. They are doing this by pioneering universal access to legal representation, leveraging Service Cloud, the Nonprofit Success Pack, and Communities to streamline cases in their program from intake to impact. They have enjoyed over 30x growth in the last 5 years and are paving a path to social justice for all, first in San Francisco, and hopefully forming a model that can be replicated throughout the United States.
“We have been able to automate everything; custom flows, matching volunteers to cases, and looking to use Einstein next to match law knowledge to cases for less work. We track every minute of our work to fully understood outcomes in terms of money saved, fines deferred, quality of life improved, and more. That impact is shared on our website, and on a new impact portal using Community Cloud where funders can see their specific impact, our throughput, and client satisfaction.”
Growth in Scalable Technology (& Fundraising)
Terry Cole, Executive Director, Street Youth Ministry of Austin
“Small is wonderful. You can keep focused on goals, and keep staff well informed on that direction. But, being a smaller nonprofit is also challenging because you have high overhead and initial expense in technology, insurance, and other things. We started focused on fundraising and now have full visibility into where are income comes from, and where we should grow it next. With Salesforce’s donation of cloud-based technology, you can get start growing your capacity in one area, and move to the next when you are ready.”
Since 2008, Street Youth Ministry of Austin (SYM) has been helping homeless or street-dependent youth identify their needs and connect them to local communities and partners. Using the Nonprofit Success Pack they are able to launch fundraising campaigns to target any segment of their donors, then track the results with real-time analytics, all as a small organization and IT team of one.
“Growth is always painful as we grow from adhoc to procedural, small to scaled. You have to find the right people and figure out how to divide and redivide the job duties, and give them a consistent way of working. Because we invested in Salesforce, we have limited churn on tools and methods. We started with with donor management, then newsletters, then volunteers, then clients participation and impact, operations scheduling, then cases for non-client constituents. You have to start somewhere.”
Viewing growth as greedy or “against the grain” of nonprofit models will only hold us back from achieving our Mission’s promise. With a solid reason for where and why you should grow, and a balanced approach to sustainably increase your impact, growth is a good word. In today’s ever changing world if your organization doesn’t evolve, another more nimble organization will, or there will be missed opportunities for impact. Find your next project, plant a seed, use technology to grow effectively, and see where it takes you.