Five things every non-profit needs to succeed

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November 28, 2021
The List from We Are Immediate
by Lori Shecter

The five things every non-profit needs to succeed are not elusive or secret. It’s actually a logical sequence of elements that every business needs to succeed because a non-profit is a business. It’s not just about a passion.

But first, define what success means to you. It is one thing if you just want to help someone or something.  It’s another if you want to be profitable enough to quit your day job. Both are successful.

There are 100’s (if not 1000’s) of non-profits that exist that may only help 1 person. Or 5 people. Or 10 people. Remember that if these non-profits didn’t exist, those 5 people may have fallen through the cracks. FIVE HUMANS BEINGS (or other living creatures). So, no matter what your goal is, I want to personally thank you for thinking about or actually running a non-profit.

The list of five things every non-profit needs to succeed

1: Cash

The first thing a non-profit needs to succeed is cash. Or the equivalent of cash. Or an idea that runs on very little cash. Without cash or cash equivalent, your mission won’t get off the ground.

EXAMPLE: We Are Raising Men was started by Rodney Smith Junior in 2015. He started out to help the elderly and veterans, not to start a non-profit. Here is his inspiring story.

EXAMPLE:  The T.J. Martell Foundation was founded by a music mogul who lost his son to cancer. The foundation based on a tragedy has funded nearly $280 Million in cancer research! Tony’s celebrity connections in the music industry made this foundation an incredible success story for cancer research.

How to raise cash 

If your non-profit doesn’t fit into either of the two examples above, and most likely you don’t, here are ways to raise the money in order of the least lucrative:

  • Self-fund: Many, many entrepreneurs bootstrap their ideas. A non-profit IS A BUSINESS, not a mission. It is up to you to determine if you can afford to self-fund and take this risk with your own savings and credit-card advances. From someone (me) who has invested gobs of money into my own business (and it took years to see the fruits of my labor) you must have a very thick skin and the ability to support yourself during these lean times.
  • Friends and Family: Another solution that might get you started.
  • Donors: This can be both friends and family — but also through social media marketing and additional forms of advertising.
  • Peer-to-peer: Have friends and family raise money for your cause.
  • Getting local businesses to support your mission by offering them co-branding on your website, social media, and email blast placement. I’ve linked How to get Sponsorship articles in this post below.
  • Grants: Down the road – two or more years into your non-profit grant applications

2:  A good board

What is a good board? One that will help you with point number 1 — get the cash. I know that there are a gazillion other things a board must bring to the table. But after talking to 100’s of non-profits and sitting in board meetings where nothing gets accomplished there is ONE THING a board needs to do better than any of the other functions. Show you the money. Period. If you want to learn more about the other things a board should do, please head over to Joan Garry’s website and read all about the other functions your good board needs. I am about money, money and more money.

3:  Offer a service or program that others see value in

You are a business. I can’t say that enough. If you don’t offer a service that others (and I mean a lot of others) see value in and can appreciate, it will be very hard to get to point number 1 and therefore be very difficult to survive. That doesn’t necessarily mean millions of people. It means enough people that will understand what you do and be able to support your cause financially or at least spread the word. Click Here for an amazing list of Non-profits you never heard of. Below are some of the types of categories that you will find:

  • Diseases
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty
  • Domestic Violence
  • Veterans
  • Education
  • Hunger and Water
  • Medical Needs
  • Animals
  • Environment

But, if you are an artist who believes that raising money to send art supplies to impoverished children in Africa who will draw pictures to then be sold so they can raise money for their families (yes, a real idea presented to me), it might be very, very difficult to get people behind your vision.

4:  Be able to be heard over your competition (or at least alongside it.)

Just because you do the same thing as another non-profit, doesn’t mean that your organization can’t be successful. We Are Immediate is a web design and development company based in Silicon Alley in New York City. We compete with 1000s of other web development companies for web design jobs. The reason we are successful is because we’ve been built on blood, sweat and tears and many hours of proposals. But also

  • We care more and we do it better.
  • We work too much because we love what we do.
  • We took a long time (11 years) to get to where we are.
  • We have a commitment to excellence.
  • We are striving to be better always. We are constantly evolving.
  • We are always marketing and selling. Always.
  • We are always seeking new ways to find clients (in your terms, funding).
  • We work from the heart.
  • Our mission to help non-profits succeed expands to many levels and we are always seeking new ways to help.

A non-profit can do these things as well as answer the following:

  • Do you have your elevator pitch? (Who, how, and why you help.)
  • Are you always selling your idea?
  • Do you seek support on how you can do it better?
  • Is there an unmet need in your community that you will be able to solve?
  •  Will you be able to meet that need and how?
  • Are you known and trusted in your community?
  • Will you be able to get funding from community members and businesses in your community?
  • Can you get volunteers to help you start out?
  • Branding and communication- Do you have a great website that makes gives you credibility? Social media communication and engagement and all the rest of what it takes to get your message out.

Examples of awesome non-profits that are smaller but still have a powerful impact on human beings:

Victory For Vets: Dog rescue PLUS trains dogs to help Veterans with PTSD. This is a non-profit that provides two services! Rescue plus Service dogs–at an affordable price. Other organizations do this, but certainly not the same. Funded by the founder, local businesses, and donors.

Scars Uncovered: Founded by Andrea Pitts, who was a burn survivor at the young age of 1.5, her words continue to echo in my mind: She said “I’ve only helped about 1000 people.” And I said, “are you crazy!!! That is simply amazing!! 1000 burn victims who would not have the care packages if it weren’t for YOU!”

5:  A strong stomach.  A strong heart.  And stamina.

Listen, in the end, it’s about the W…the WHY you what do this. If your goal is just to help a few people, (like Rodney from We Are Raising Men), then just do it. See where it goes. See where it leads you.

But if you have a goal of building an organization that is going to supply you with income, remember that, like any business, you need to have the C-A-S-H.  Period. 

This type of non-profit is a BUSINESS, not a dream, not a mission. But a business that requires business planning, goal setting, and finances just like any other start-up. So, the very first step in your non-profit is to figure out the WHY of your non-profit dream and identify your personal success metrics.

By-the-way, I started We Are Immediate because I thought we could just be better than anyone else. It took me 5 years of failure, and a lot of “self-funding” to realize, that it wasn’t that easy. By the time I’d devoted 5 years toward my vision, I discovered it was more than just thinking we were better and more than just being better. We had to let a lot of people know we were better. (Marketing, positioning, strategy, and design.) That realization changed the trajectory of my dream. Today We Are Immediate has helped 100’s of non-profits deliver on their missions and goals. Need help getting started?


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