Turning the Tables: What Big Nonprofits Can Learn From Smaller Ones


There is no shortage of advice in our industry on what small and mid-sized nonprofits can learn from larger nonprofits. It’s a frequent and valuable topic at conferences and in publications.

But larger nonprofits can learn quite a lot from smaller ones too, particularly when it comes to direct response fundraising. Here are a few “habits of highly successful” smaller nonprofits – and food for thought for larger organizations.

1. Smaller nonprofits think of their donors by name, not segment. Nonprofits with large programs think of their donors in terms of segments that are predictive of response, with names like “0-12 Multi,” “Lybunt” or “A3XQP12B.” To smaller nonprofits, donors are “Grace,” “Fred” or “Mr. and Mrs. Walker.”

2. Communications from smaller nonprofits look and feel “real.” Because they are. The handwritten address on the carrier envelope isn’t a font – a person actually addressed the envelope! The rubber stamp on the carrier envelope marked “urgent” is a real rubber stamp. The insert in the year end appeal looks a little grainy because it was actually photocopied, and on a 30-year-old machine to boot.

3. Smaller nonprofits can mobilize quickly. When there is breaking news, lengthy communication routing and approval processes don’t hold smaller nonprofits back from communicating with their donors in a timely manner.

4. Smaller nonprofits don’t write “copy;” they write letters and emails. When you know someone personally, you talk to them differently and are more accountable for what you say. Smaller nonprofits have the advantage of knowing many of the donors they’re communicating with, and this can translate to more genuine – and effective – communications. On the other hand, when an organization starts thinking of its letters as just “direct mail” or its emails as “eblasts” as Kivi Leroux Miller points out, face it, they they probably suck.


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