Signs of Success: What to Look for Beyond Dollars

In today’s blog, we are exploring how to answer this question – is your non-profit successful? Success can mean many things to many people. For non-profit organizations, it can be typical to first look at dollar signs. Has your organization seen a steady, incremental increase in donations year-over-year? Certainly, this is a telling fact. But it is just one piece of the story; there is more to consider.


Declining Volunteering and Donating Rates

In some non-profit sectors, people are donating more time and money. For example, according to Giving USA, overall giving by individuals increased by nearly four percent from 2014 to 2015. But largely, giving and volunteering are trending down on a national scale. Also from 2014 to 2015, giving to foundations decreased, and giving to religious organizations only stayed the same (after decreasing annually for years).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate declined by 0.4 percentage point to 24.9 percent between September 2014 and September 2015. Unfortunately this isn’t a unique trend. Overall, volunteer rates have been steadily declining for the last decade.


People Join Non-profits for a Reason: Have a Good One

There are likely many reasons contributing to the decline in volunteering and donation rates, such as people feeling less obligated to donate time or money, people working longer hours at work, or people moving too frequently to get involved in non-profit work. Whatever the reason, there is a major takeaway for non-profits: you need to offer a distinct reason for people to get involved. Having a clear mission is a key to success.

Today, non-profits need to be run as businesses (because, of course, they are). As with any business, it is important to succinctly describe what service you are providing to the community that differentiates you from every other business (and non-profit) out there.

Define your value proposition. Ensure your mission meets the needs of your community. Deliver programs that align with that mission. These core values and clear goals are valuable, and if your organization has them, that is a sign of success to come.


Increased Social Media Following

Spreading awareness about an organization should be part of every non-profit leader’s short and long-term plan. Social media offers an effective and free way to do it. If your social media following is increasing over time, that is a sign of success. Non-profits will typically see the most impact on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Success on social media goes beyond just a number of followers. How you engage with people, and how they engage with you, is the real identifier of success. Engaging people in a dialogue that helps to advance the mission of your organization is key.

Social media is meant to be social. Don’t simply invest time in proactive posts that promote your cause; react to people who ask questions or comment on anything having to do with your non-profit. When assessing social media success, keep those engagement numbers in mind.


More Event Attendees

Hosting events is a wonderful way for non-profits to spread word about their mission while giving volunteers and members of the community an opportunity to network and have fun. Many non-profits host annual events. If the number of registered attendees has steadily grown, that is a terrific sign of growth, especially if ticket prices have gone up as years have passed, too.


More Volunteers

In today’s climate of seeing fewer volunteers year-over-year, you know you have something special if more people are volunteering for your organization this year than in years passed. Many people see time as their most valuable asset, so if they are spending their time volunteering for your organization, it is incredibly meaningful. Always consider number of volunteers in your organization’s success metrics.

A non-profit organization doesn’t necessarily have to have increasing donations, volunteers, social media followers and event attendees in order to be successful. But in today’s competitive arena for non-profits, organizations should hope to at least be holding steady, if not growing in the majority of these areas.

When assessing your success, look at all these factors. If there is an area in which you are struggling, dedicate time to focus on improvement now and during the second half of the year. Don’t disregard the areas in which you are seeing progress either. A cohesive, ongoing strategy will best help your organization to continue to thrive.