The Pros Share Important Not-For-Profit Management Tips

There is a lot of crossover between running a for-profit company and a non-profit venture such as the Anita Borg Institute. However, there are some very unique challenges that you'll come across in the not-for-profit realm.

We put out the call to dozens of non-profit business management experts to see if they'd be willing to share their experiences and knowledge with our readers. The 18 pros below agreed to contribute to our article and spill the beans on their top recommendations on how to tackle the not-for-profit world.

1. 100% Plus One

“In order to create effective operations and attract sustainable donors, the roles of the Board and CEO or Executive Director must be fully addressed before anything else.

Growth doesn’t just happen; it is purposeful and ideally begins with a cultural expectation of successful development at all levels, from the receptionist to the President and CEO.

To ensure donor trust and loyalty, I make it a practice to do what I call the 100% Plus One, which is to do 100% of what is promised 100% of the time – plus do one memorable thing that the donors don’t expect.

There is no substitute for regular communication with a helpful attorney who has a reason to care about an organization and is willing to serve on the Board. Only hire CEOs or Executive Directors who have HR experience; it’s key in reducing liability for the organization.”

By Reidel Post of Rebel Resolutions

2. Special Jobs Require Special Skills

“In my nearly 27 years of working with non-profits, I have found that the most important piece to creating a thriving non-profit is making sure your staff team is comprised of non-profit professionals. Some skills are transferable across fields, but non-profits are a special sector and require staff who are specifically trained in serving non-profits. Look for staff who have credentials in the field such as the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Non-profit specialists will have an important insight into the growth of the organization. We’ve guided a non-profit to a 30% increase in membership through making data-driven decisions on their membership structure and improving their value proposition. One of the best ways to make sure you’re working with experts is to hire an association management company (AMC). The AMC Institute conducted an Industry Impact Study in 2016, showing that non-profits choosing an AMC for full service management grew by 300% vs. 23% for standalone societies.”

By Linda Owens, CAE of IMI Association Executives

3. Change Your Business Model

“I’ve provided pro bono consulting on strategy to several non-profits. The ones that stick out most in my mind were startups initiated by big-hearted people, or non-profits that were once strong but are now floundering.

Given that experience, I would say that the biggest tip is to recognize that operations (run the organization) is different from strategy (change the business). Most of my pro bono clients get absorbed in the day to day of fundraising and programming. Their business model needs to change, but they find “I’m too busy” and neglect facing up to those changes. Many are under the mis-impression that plan = strategy and that vision statements are sufficient to guarantee their success in a fast chaining world.

In a related area, many of their boards are weak. The board members are big-hearted volunteers without the ability to challenge the organization on strategy.”

By Greg Githens, The Strategic Thinking Coach

4. Simplify Your Call To Action

“It is vital to have a crystal clear way for someone to get engaged. For example, Rebuild Upstate repairs homes of low-income families. How can you help? Come work with us for a day repairing a home. There is no long-term commitment, no complex questionnaire, and there is little question of what the activity will be. Having a simple call to action that is laser-focused at your specific audience is a key to success.”

By Chris Manley of Rebuild Upstate

5. Incorporate & File As Tax-Exempt

“It’s important for non-profit management to know that there are two steps to becoming a non-profit. The first step is to file a non-profit entity with the Secretary of State of the state in which the business is formed and/or doing business. The second is to file for “non-profit” status via the IRS. This allows the entity to accept donations and provide for write-offs for donors, as well as being recognized as a tax-exempt entity at the federal level. This requires a “certification” of the entity as a non-profit under an IRS Code Section. Different types of non-profits qualify under different code sections – religious, academic, sports, etc. There are many types of non-profits. It’s important for a non-profit owner to know to both incorporate and to undertake the non-profit, tax-exempt status filings at the federal level.”

By Deborah Sweeney of

6. Google Ad Grants

“Make sure you take advantage of the free adspend offered by Google for non-profits. Through this program you can get $10,000 or more a month in free adspend to advertise your non-profit to the world. This is a huge opportunity overlooked or not known by many non-profits, and having this free adspend is a great way to get your company name in front of more people and help it grow.”

By Stacy Caprio of Growth Marketing

7. Be Your Authentic Self

“As a co-founder of Selah Freedom and the Selah Way Foundation, I have found fundraising to actually be the easiest aspect. If you are working 100% in your calling and have a true passion for the work you are doing, you should exude a frequency that literally attracts people and money. It’s not about a formula or philanthropic map, but rather being your authentic self and attracting the money and donors who’s worlds we be enhanced simply by knowing you and your mission. I have raised over 14 million dollars in a few years and never once felt like it was anything more than developing friendships.”

By Elizabeth Melendez Fisher of Selah Freedom & The Selah Way Foundation

8. Lean On Your Support Team

“Do not isolate yourself. I reach out to my non-profit peers as well as my board of directors to share challenges that may arise. Your board should be your personal think tank. Here at enCourage Kids Foundation we are very fortunate to have a top notch global law firm provide pro-bono legal services to us. The firm is proactive in keeping us informed of all new non-profit legal requirements. Join a professional fundraising or leadership association. I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals here in New York City. Membership has not only exponentially raised my knowledge around fundraising trends and development planning, but it has raised my professional profile as well.”

By Michele Hall Duncan of enCourage Kids Foundation

9. It Begins With A Personal Passion

“Our grassroots non-profit was started by my husband and me, so we know firsthand what the families are experiencing. Living the experience and having a full understanding of what your clients are going through gives you the perfect vantage point for providing support. Since we are an all-volunteer non-profit, passion is the source for the success of our Foundation. Having a strong sense of enthusiasm and knowledge that can be conveyed to others is vital and helps supporters and donors to get behind your cause.”

By Jennifer Driscoll of Lily’s Hope Foundation

10. Help Because Help Is Needed

“We’ve been able to streamline our organization to eliminate much of the cost of operation and, given our focus, our vendors have stepped up to play their part as well. We’re typically around 90 cents on the dollar going directly to fulfillment with just 2% of donations going to administration costs. We’re proud of that. We didn’t launch these organizations to get rich. We launched them to help because help is needed. Keeping your eye on the real goal, while serving both donators and recipients, is the path to a successful non-profit.”

By Aaron Negherbon of TroopsDirect & CopsDirect

11. Turning Vision Into Reality Requires A Cohesive Team

“When a non-profit faces difficulty in obtaining funding and support as I did, the key to success is involving like-minded individuals to both finance and operate the organisation. From raising small donations through our website to delegating increasing responsibility to staff and beneficiaries from the community being served, it takes a full network to make a vision into reality. 9 years later my team and I have empowered hundreds of females and their families in Zimbabwe and southern Chile through microfinance to become independent entrepreneurs.”

By Shyam K. Iyer of SKI Charities Corp.

12. Build Your Social Network

“So often, the needs of a nonprofit are tied to relationships or lack of them. Expand your network beyond just those in the nonprofit sector or that look just like you. You are missing out on opportunities for new perspectives but also individuals that can serve as board members, volunteers and donors or even program possibilities.”

By Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew of Soulstice Consultancy

13. Dedication, Focus & Hard Work

“Managing a non-profit is no different from managing a business. Both require dedication, focus, and hard work. Non-profit managers should stay abreast of current regulations and trends. They should refrain from commingling funds. They should keep good records, pursue partnerships, and enter into well-drafted contracts. They should dedicate time weekly, if not daily, towards marketing and growing their organization. A successful non-profit is only as good as its leadership.”

By J.R. Skrabanek of the Snell Law Firm

14. A Strong Board Is A Must

“In my experience, the most successful nonprofit executives strove to have active boards, with members from different disciplines (community leaders, finance, HR, law).

They also cultivated key employees to run the firm from day to day – and were pleased to see those employees recruited away by other nonprofits, because of the value of their experience.

The board members also advocated for long term goals aligned with the mission of the nonprofit.

Finally, a strong board is essential to fundraising, not only for their personal contributions (and access to donors), but also for their attention to the business of the nonprofit.

As one executive once remarked, “It’s not about the money, but it is” – without the fundraising, the nonprofit could not pursue its mission.”

By Stanley P. Jaskiewicz, Esquire of Spector Gadon & Rosen, PC

15. Show Up In Your Community

“The number one way to garner any support, be it fundraising, attendance at events, clients or long-term employees is for the leadership of the organization to show up in their community and be seen as a consistent contributor. For some non-profits that can mean going to neighborhood meetings, small financial contributions/raffle baskets to a fellow non-profit, setting up referral relationships, doing social media shout outs for community partners, hosting a table at a health fair/farmers market etc. These actions do not have to be financial, but they do need to show support for others because when you become part of a community and show up for them, they will show up for you. When I worked as an Assistant Executive Director at a 30-person agency I spent a large part of my time connecting with community partners and giving back in the ways we could which allowed me not only to have a network filled with amazing people and resources for my clients and staff, but it increased our referrals and quadrupled our fundraising.”

By Christine Flynn, MSW of fás trí comhar

16. Have A Growth Mindset

“Many nonprofits are formed from a wonderful idea but if they haven't considered their growth into the future, they will scramble for funds every year. Having a growth mindset and factoring legacy giving and endowments into their initial plans will allow them to ask their donors for annual gifts for current operating support as well as gifts to support the financial stability of the organization. These “future” funds will then allow the organization to adjust to its growth, expand facilities, staff, programs, technology or reach as needed, and provide a cushion in the years that the organization has a fiscal hiccup in reaching its goals.”

By Lori Kranczer of Everyday Planned Giving, LLC

17. Be First In Line

“Managing a non-profit requires that you be your first donor and volunteer. This doesn't mean that you put money in, after all you are an employee, but it does mean that you need to be so sold out on what your non-profit's mission is that asking for volunteers and donors and giving up the higher paying job in the for-profit world comes naturally.”

By Nathanael Paul Davis of Aletheia Christian College

18. Raise Awareness & Make A Difference

“Treat your non-profit like a SaaS business, focusing on growing your army of supporters and keeping your members engaged. In terms of engagement, focus your work on mobilizing your members to act. Funders no longer want to give money to an organization just doing events, they expect non-profits to raise awareness AND also make a difference. You do not need to be a lobbying organization to have an impact in legislative change, as a non-profit you can empower your members to contact their lawmakers directly and impact policy.

In terms of organizational culture, run your non-profit like a startup so your employees behave with agility and productivity. This will go a long way since non-profits have fewer resources and lots of demands.”

By Ximena Hartsock of Phone2Action


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