“Let me know if you need anything.”
How often have you sent this message to friends, family, or colleagues going through tough times? Every time we write those words, we mean it. We want to help. Yet people seldom take us up on the offer.
The truth is, asking for help is generally much harder than offering it.
Which says a lot since, as nonprofit leaders, we spend much of our days literally asking for help.
We’re asking for gifts and grants. We’re asking staff to help accomplish incredible things. We’re asking qualified candidates to accept jobs, knowing they may have competing offers or salary levels we can’t match. We’re asking volunteers to support our organizations and to join our boards.
The good news for nonprofit leaders? New research shows that people truly want to help.
All you have to do is ask.
Use a Strategic Plan to Understand What You Need
The first step in asking for help is knowing what you need. That’s where a strategic plan is essential. A strategic plan articulates your vision and mission, and provides a roadmap for how you’re going to achieve them. As part of that roadmap, it will quickly become clear what you’re missing.
Some needs will be obvious. Yes, every nonprofit could use more money and more staff.
Other gaps, though, will be more nuanced. For example, maybe your Board of Directors isn’t as engaged or committed to the mission as it should be. Which means investing in finding the right kind of board members who can support your work in different ways. That could include individuals who bring new financial resources, fundraising or organizing savvy, or the kind of deep insights gained from being a member of the community your organization serves.
A strategic plan helps you pinpoint exactly what you need most.
Be Clear about Roles and Realistic about Expectations
It’s common knowledge that roles and responsibilities within nonprofit organizations are too often unclear. Executive Directors might be serving as grantwriters, drafting press releases, and filling in for gaps in senior leadership—all while still doing the job of running the organization!
At Funding for Good, we’ve seen this situation far too many times.
A strategic plan can help you begin to chart your way out of this situation (Hire an experienced grantwriter! Build a communications team!). But to be successful, you also need to be clear about the roles your board, staff, or volunteers should play. For example, according to research from BoardSource, only a third of nonprofits have board members who are actively advocating for their organization’s mission.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Remember, people want to help. There’s even science to back it up. As The New York Times reminds us:
“There are a variety of physical and mental health benefits of helping others, including the so-called helper’s high, which refers to the emotional and even physiological benefits associated with giving to others, including lower levels of stress hormones.”
With a strong and thoughtful strategic plan in hand, you’ll be prepared to ask for exactly what your organization needs. And, maybe just as importantly, you’ll be ready to give others the opportunity to help.