by Marie Palacios

A Penny Saved is A Penny Earned

If I had a penny for every time I heard that cliché I would be able to keep my nonprofit running for years without having to write a single grant or plan another energy sucking fundraiser.

We live in a time where even mainstream society is embracing the mindset of extreme couponing and tiny house living as ways to pinch pennies so that we can “work to live” rather than “live to work.”

Why is it then that many of our nonprofits still operate on a shoestring budget and adhere to the mindset that “this is the way we have always done it?” While tradition is great, we need to make sure we haven’t become blind to money saving strategies in our daily operations.

When I joined my current nonprofit’s team in 2014 I had to overcome a steep learning curve. I had spent 12 years directing a Latino advocacy center where I was considered an expert in the field. My new position pulled me way outside of my comfort zone because not only was I hired as the organization’s first Executive Director, our entire mission is centered on public archaeology and cultural heritage program. Even in my wildest dreams I am not a modern day Indiana Jones so I am leaning heavily on my expertise in the areas of nonprofit development. Thankfully I was hired to help the organization grow and not hold a trowel!

Within my first six months I was given a list of priorities from my board of directors. One of my first tasks included completing an internal evaluation of the organization. We focused on programming, technology, staffing, and you guessed it…finances!

Here are a few ways we found that we could save money without compromising on quality:

  1. Energy/Utility- Our monthly power bills were OUTRAGEOUS. We were able to cut our bills by more than $100/month by:
  1. Unplugging three of our four fridges, microwaves, and other “dormant” but energy using appliances when summer camps/field schools are out of session.
  2. Setting the heating/air controls on a cycle that allowed for gradual increases/decreases in temperatures during non-peak office hours.
  3. Sealing windows/doors and installing new blinds and/or energy efficient curtains.
  1. Competitive Pricing Conversations- Our organization produces seasonal newsletters and lots of program/marketing materials. The vendor that had traditionally designed and printed all materials charged almost 20% more than other companies in the area but had never been challenged on their prices since our organization was bound to that long-term relationship. When I called and explained that we value our long-term relationship but had received quotes for the same service at a much more competitive rate, we made some progress! I asked each vendor if they could match a competitor’s price. At the end of the day we ended up saving close to $3,000 in one year on all our PR materials.
  1. Community Service Programs– Our organization was budgeting close to $1,000/year for cleaning services for our office/dorm space. Additionally we budgeted close to $2,000 for regular yard/lawn maintenance. All it took was a few strategic conversations with the local court system to outline our service needs and requirements. Now the court sends us regular community service workers to help us with those time consuming and costly tasks! We requested service workers with non-violent offenses, no sexual offenses, and no larceny/theft charges.  Over all we have had a great group of service workers who have helped us save more than $3,000 and countless staff hours maintaining our facility.
  1. Service Contracts- If you have annual contracts with a local pest control, insurance company, copier lease, or anything else in that ballpark make sure to re-evaluate each year. Our nonprofit was paying for monthly visits from a pest control company when we really only need services from May-September. We also were spending hundreds of dollars for toner and parts for our old printer when a lease agreement with Toshiba was actually more affordable and adequate for our printing needs. A few minor changes now saves our organization more than $700/year.
  1. Buy in Bulk– It may seem obvious but how many of us tend to buy small quantities of our paper products/office supplies at the local dollar store to “get us through until the next donation?” Yes, the monthly expense might look reasonable but consider how buying in bulk saves you on product cost, hours of paid staff time, and reimbursement for staff mileage.

I am aware that all of this might sound like common sense but how many of us truly put penny pinching strategies into practice every day at our nonprofit? Strategic evaluations of our past and current spending trends helped save our organization close to $8,000 in the past year alone. That is $8,000 worth of grants I did not have to write or tickets I didn’t have to sell for a fundraising event.

It adds up. We have been exploring even more ways to save money staff time. What are ways your nonprofits are living up to the “penny saved is a penny earned” model? Share your tips on Funding for Good’s Facebook page!