Fundraising is a lot like the stock market — if you want to do well, your best bet is to diversify.
For nonprofits, this marketing basic is as important now as it ever was, but Becky Dembo, executive director of Chatham-based Partnership in Philanthropy, says that in down economies nonprofits also need to take a look inside. A graduate of Drew Theological Seminary, from which she holds a master’s in divinity, Dembo graduated from Penn with a bachelor’s in childhood education.
Before coming to PIP she worked for the Deidre O’Brien Child Advocacy Center (now Deidre’s House) and Bonnie Brae, a residential treatment center for adolescent boys, based in Liberty Corners. Immediately prior to joining PIP she was the executive director of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce.
Dembo and PIP program director Heather Robinson will be among the presenters who discuss the future of nonprofits at the 13th annual Community Works on Monday, January 25, at 5 p.m. at Frist Center at Princeton University. The event will feature 20 workshops including Dembo’s “Best Practices for Successful Fundraising.” Cost to attend is $29, which includes a box supper, two workshops and all workshop-related materials. Call 609-924-8652 or visit www.princetoncommunityworks.org.
“Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing,” says Dembo, who has been in the nonprofit world for a quarter century and at PIP for nine years, says n
ow, rather, is the time to make sure your organization is in order and that the people on boards and staffs are really the best people for the organization. And if that means a little housecleaning, so be it.
How OK is everything, really? PIP recommends all nonprofits do some internal auditing and ask themselves some tough questions. Is the organization living up to its mission statement? Are your programs making the agency money, or are they draining funds that could be put to better use? Do you have the right people in the right positions?
Also, look at the by-laws and see whether they jibe with the actual law. In recent years nonprofits have been subjected to several changes in legislation and, like any other enterprise, must operate within certain boundaries. Nonprofits now must also afford the same protections to whistleblowers as any commercial business.
In 2008 Congress enacted a law requiring nonprofits to file IRS form 990, which reports certain internal information. “Make sure your organization is informed,” Dembo says.
What if? These two dreaded words often expose an organization’s lack of preparation, Dembo says. People found nonprofits because they believe in them and want to do good. But they often do not think about their own exits.
“You need contingency plans,” Dembo says. “What if the worst happens? Then what if the next-worst happens? How do you handle it? You need a succession plan. It’s not something a lot of nonprofits really think about. We want them to think, step by step.”
Trouble-ready. One of the federal government’s latest catchphrases, being trouble-ready essentially means hitting the ground running when times get back to good. The good thing about bad times, after all, is that they end, and Dembo says too many nonprofits simply want to ride out trouble. But when times get better, those agencies that have kept up on their basics — fundraising, mission statements, donor lists — will be in better shape to take off. Agencies should be courting the attentions of everyone they can, she says, from governments and foundations to businesses and wealthy citizens.
Dembo believes the future of nonprofits, at least immediately, will involve more collaborations and partnerships. There are myriad nonprofit groups and more every week, all vying to champion a relatively few causes. Dembo does not think that there are too many nonprofits, but if there are, this recession will weed out the ones that are not equipped to withstand it.
Partnership In Philanthropy encourages collaboration among like-minded groups, and Dembo sees unity playing a more important role. Overall, she thinks nonprofits will be OK, having garnered the attention of certain governmental representatives who advocate that governments look to nonprofits as role models of efficiency.
“We do more with less,” Dembo says. “But we always have.”
She also stands up for the entrepreneurial spirit. People look at nonprofit founders and think of idealism. Dembo sees enterprise and heart. “It takes a lot to run a nonprofit,” she says. “You can be an idealist, but if you can start a nonprofit, you are awesome.”