January 28, 2019
Do Less; Earn More – A Non-Profit Example

Personal Finance


5 min read

Ever Wonder Why You Do So Much But Achieve So Little?


Working with a non-profit client this morning, we reviewed their giving policy and services. Because previously the org tried to do *everything* for everyone, they essentially limited the funding they could secure. Why? Because it was that much harder to define exactly what they do and who they serve. Mission creep is a huge issue in non-profits. The assumption is that by doing less you somehow are less. That can’t be further from the truth. Do less, be more, and earn more. It’s all possible.

You Can’t be All Things to All People

Out of fear of losing donors, organizations will serve *all* needs instead of *unmet* needs. They induce paralysis in their donor base. Trying to please everyone and do everything simply won’t work. When faced with too many choices, customers, clients, and donors will make worse decisions or simply walk away. Pare down the decisions to what you are amazing at and what they are looking for, and you have a recipe for success.

When everyone is doing everything, it becomes that much harder for donors to understand where their choices will be the most effective. Let’s say you are a non-profit focused on hunger. You’d think that your mission is pretty simple: find hungry people and feed them. Its easy to get caught up in the ancillary needs of your community or even your target group. Feeding the hungry becomes clothing them, leading to sheltering them, leading to financial assistance, leading to a ton of operational overhead that you don’t need. You’re most probably duplicating other organization’s services, diluting their effectiveness and your own.

Guide Your Clients, Don’t Cower to Them

So if you want to retain dedicated clients/donors, you have to guide their choices so they are most effective. Think of it like a restaurant. Ever go to a restaurant that has a GIANT menu and offers a cornucopia of items, only to actually make one or two things constantly? How did your restaurant get to this point? Someone probably showed up and said “I want fish!” and you attempted to meet that need, then everyone else did the same. Soon after you were serving 100 items but really only making 10. In reality your customers, after scrolling through your ginormous menu, feeling the pressure to choose quickly (so the line isn’t held up), and seeing so many things they’d rather not take a chance on, will pick what’s familiar and easy.

So you’ll make lots of sub-par plates of Biryani, Hamburgers, Shawarma, or similar. Each item will cost you more as well, because your cost of goods to make at any time all those items is too high. You’ll make lots of less than happy customers due to the anxiety related to the process. Make your menu smaller, and your customers will choose faster, your cost of acquisition will be less, and you’ll make more on volume.

Saying No is a Superpower

So what’s our hunger non-profit supposed to do if their clients need clothes? Say no. It’s a superpower. It takes a lot to say no (here’s one of my favorite books on the topic). It takes even more to say no and know how to direct that client or donor’s energy afterwards. So if it was a client being served, you’d either refer them elsewhere, partner with a specialist, or make a pilot program to spin off into another entity. If it was a donor asking to earmark funds for something you don’t do, you’d either refuse, hone your pitch to convince them of your mission, or send them to a referral partner.

So while to most it seems paradoxical, by focusing on the 2-3 core things you are great at, you can devote more time to serving more people, and by extension bring in more money to do so.

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