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Top Three Challenges Facing Nonprofits Today

How can nonprofits cope with increasing demand and decreasing resources? Hear from industry executives and find out how they're handling these challenges.

Top Three Challenges Facing Nonprofits Today

We didn’t know what to expect when we asked a few of our clients to put their heads together at an executive roundtable to discuss the significant issues facing nonprofits. And while there were some laughs along the way (who knew running a nonprofit was like a NASCAR race?!), we got a genuine and honest look at the challenges these organizations face. The panelists also shared top advice for any nonprofit struggling to engage donors and raise more money.


Phil Schmitz, CharityEngine’s CEO, was joined by three guests:



While these three organizations have different missions and different methods of donor outreach, there was consensus around the most significant problems nonprofits are facing.


1. Staff and Donor Fatigue

The beginning of 2020 put nonprofits into overdrive. The need for help grew substantially; Brian talked about how his organization grew from a $20 million organization pre-pandemic to a $65 million organization today. He told us that his staff has been working around the clock to get there. And, he added, the need hasn’t decreased. Still, donors who gave so generously during the pandemic are easing back into their everyday lives, and with that comes a decreasing focus on charitable giving.


Our panelists offered some strategies to combat this fatigue:


Think outside the box. After a big event, Christina said her radio station gets the whole staff together and they spend the day calling donors to thank them. It’s a fun holiday for staff, and donors are surprised and delighted by a personal phone call.


Meet your donors where they are. The pandemic showed us that we can do anything on a cell phone, so offering a hybrid event (both in-person and online) or revisiting the wonders of QR codes makes it easy for your donors to give.


Tell stories that show your nonprofit’s impact. If your donors can call you, submit stories on your website, or engage with you on social media, their heartfelt stories can energize your staff and reinvigorate your donors. Share them widely and often!


Be authentic. Brian said he will grab his cell phone and “go live” as he walks through his warehouse, thanking his donors and showing them the pallets of food that will go directly to those who need it. The pandemic, he said, means that we’re accustomed to seeing the real lives of people (even if that means your dog jumps into your lap on a Zoom call), and we’ve lost the need to be flashy and polished. Everyone has something genuine they’re fighting for, and Mike recommended that nonprofits boil their message down to what’s authentic and lead with that.


2. Having to Do More with Less

The resounding response to this common challenge was summed up by a simple directive from Christina: “Automate, automate, automate.” Other panelists went so far as to say that technology is a “no-brainer across every facet of an organization.”


Leaning on technology will help nonprofits in multiple ways:


  • It will give your staff the right tools (as Brian said, you don’t give someone a screwdriver to pound a nail!) to focus on the things technology can’t do, like those personal calls to donors.
  • Donations will increase because technology will rebill declined gifts or automatically update credit card expiration dates.
  • Donor management and enrichment programs will help with donor retention, whether it’s alerting you to an expiring donor so you can make a personal phone call or using online forms and platforms to reach a broad audience.
  • Technology will help you communicate regularly with your donors, which is critical. This can mean keeping streamlined donor lists current and scheduling automated emails and messages. 
  • A good CRM will also make executing a multi-pronged year-end giving campaign easy and automatic. This is a great annual opportunity to connect with donors, take risks with different forms of creative outreach, and get those dollars rolling in.

3. Donor Retention and Growth

The panelists’ responses again echoed a uniform sentiment: if you want to grow and retain your donors, invest in fundraising tools. Brian spoke to the scarcity mindset of many nonprofits, such as thinking, “I’m a nonprofit, I can’t invest in a good phone system. I’ve got to be okay with two cans and a string.”


To which, in the spirit of capturing some of the soundbites we won’t forget, Mike responded, “Nonprofit is a tax status, not a goal.”


Invest in the systems that will make your organization more efficient and able to raise more dollars. This can mean accounting software, an inventory management system, a donor and volunteer management system, or, yes, even a flashy new phone system. The leap is scary, these executives agreed, but you’ll be better off in the long run.


During the Q&A, a question was asked: is it better to save $10,000 or raise $10,000? After Christina joked about whether the questioner was in finance or development, the speakers again agreed that you must be revenue-focused to grow your nonprofit. A growth mindset is vital, and cost-cutting doesn’t always work. If, for example, had Help Heal Veterans chosen to save a significant amount of money spent on printing and postage, they would have missed out on a fundraising campaign that was returning donations by a three-to-one ratio.


What’s the Top Advice You Would Offer Nonprofits?

Brian Barks, Food Bank for the Heartland: “When you’re operating as if everything is a priority, you don’t have any priorities.” While this is often a difficult conversation, you must take a hard look at what you’re doing and see where you’re making a difference. Focus your energy there.


Christina Jones, Hope Media Group: “Invest in technology and automate as much as you can.” Christina echoed a sentiment that drives us at CharityEngine, and that is how astonishing it is when outdated technology holds nonprofits back. Pick the low-hanging fruit and start with the small things that make the most significant impact.


Mike Fisher, Help Heal Veterans: “Push the gas. Just keep pushing forward.” Mike, who brought up the NASCAR analogy, said you have to expect there will be some wrecks as you drive around the track. In the nonprofit world, this can be any of the challenges we’ve discussed – it can be a war, a pandemic, economic upheaval – and you just keep your foot on the gas. Set a plan and stick to it.


Every CRM vendor will tell you they love their clients, but if you doubt us, watch the webinar. These panelists brought a wealth of experience to the table and gladly shared their top tips for nonprofit success. Thanks, Mike, Christina, and Brian for taking the time to share your wisdom!