A stunning 88% of nonprofit leaders* say developing and implementing a revenue strategy would make a significant difference or a tremendous difference for their organization’s long-term success, but only 22% have one.
You’ve heard us say it before: revenue strategy is important. Like your program strategy, it aligns your organization around a goal, the path to achieve it, and resources it will take to get there. It sets you up to make the best use of scarce resources as you raise money to support your mission. (If you’re wondering how program strategy and revenue strategy are different, check out this post.)
Creating a revenue strategy takes time and money – both of which are often in short supply. So perhaps it’s not surprising so few organizations have one. But if it’s so valuable, you would expect that organizations would take steps consistent with a revenue strategy, even if they don’t have the resources to develop a full strategy. There are two metrics that can help organizations allocate their fundraising resources more effectively:
- $ raised per fundraising FTE, a metric that sheds light on whether raising more money will require more people or more/better support and systems for the people you have
- Return on investment of fundraising activities, a metric that helps allocate scarce resources among the many possible ways you could raise money
(If you want a refresher on what these are, check our webinar here.)
We asked if organizations are using these metrics and we were surprised by the results:
- 12% calculate the dollars raised per fundraising FTE
- 17% calculate the return on investment (ROI) of their fundraising activities
So, what’s going on here? There’s an approach to organizing our efforts around fundraising that we believe will result in better long-term results, but most organizations aren’t doing it. There are simple metrics that would move us a step closer to a revenue strategy (and a step closer to best use of resources) but we’re not using them, either.
As data-geeks, that’s a head-scratcher for us. But we’re astute enough to know that we’re oddballs. So, it leads us to ask: what conditions need to change for revenue strategy to get the time and attention it deserves? What can we do as a sector to address this? A few things:
- Awareness. Like program strategy 20 years ago, revenue strategy isn’t commonly talked about, used, or understood. It’s hard to find the time, money, and support for something that isn’t common.
- Evidence. With so few organizations using them, there aren’t many stories to tell – yet. And if you’re looking for irrefutable evidence, that’s even harder to find. Our instincts and experience tell us its important, but we’re short on evidence and success stories.
- Support. Until Foundations and Boards understand the value of revenue strategy and are willing to support an organization’s pursuit of one, nonprofits will be hard-pressed to find the time or dollars to do it themselves. It’s just the harsh truth of nonprofits’ access to resources, and the power of the gatekeepers of those resources.
- Availability of expertise. Throw a nickel and you’ll hit a dozen nonprofit consultants (including us!). How many of those do revenue strategy? Not many. And what they mean by “revenue strategy” is different from one to the next. So, even if you have the support of your Board and the funding to do it, it takes some effort to find someone to help with this, and your options may be limited. (We’d be happy to help!)
We are thrilled to see agreement on the importance of revenue strategy. We are saddened to see how few organizations are taking steps in that direction. But where there is a gap, there is opportunity. We’re committing ourselves to addressing these barriers to revenue strategies so that organizations make the most of their fundraising resources, enabling them to do more good in our world, sooner.
If we’ve piqued your interest, but you’re wondering “what is revenue strategy, anyway”, stay tuned. That’s our next post.
Yours in pursuit of more revenue,
Anna, Ben, George and Harleen, aka The Room40 Group
* We hosted a webinar a couple weeks ago all about the importance of Revenue Strategy, what it is, and a couple of steps you can take to get started. GuideStar was kind enough to host it for us. We had over 250 attendees. The stats in this post are from questions we asked during that webinar and in a follow-up survey.