Our past two blog posts have discussed what purpose-driven connections are and how they can be used to make communities (and the nonprofit sector itself) more equitable. Now we’ll turn to the operational aspects of purpose-driven connections: how organizations can establish and sustain them, as well as how they can be used to scale impact.
As collaboration becomes increasingly critical in the nonprofit sector, organizations, grantors, and communities need to know how to make their relationships as productive as possible. With that mission in mind, here are the top five steps for creating purpose-driven connections:
- Develop a shared set of goals and metrics for success. According to a 2020 survey conducted by BDO, 40 percent of nonprofits say they have little to no consistent framework for measuring and reporting impact. As transparency and accountability become more and more important for scaling impact, grantors, nonprofits, and community stakeholders need to develop a set of concrete outcomes they’re trying to achieve. They also have to determine how they’ll track progress toward those outcomes.
- Find the right balance between autonomy and accountability. It’s no surprise that nonprofit leaders are attracted to capacity-building and general operating support grants, as this type of assistance gives them the latitude they need to allocate resources as they see fit. But it’s also understandable that grantors want to support specific programs, which are often the reason they decide to work with specific nonprofits in the first place. Nonprofits and grantors can bridge this divide by having open conversations about which forms of support will scale impact most effectively.
- Incorporate a wide range of stakeholders in the decision-making process. Even the most innovative and important programs will flounder if they don’t have community support. Organizations like Liberty Hill are successful because they understand the value of building a healthy ecosystem of organizations with on-the-ground experience in advocacy, program implementation, and community outreach. To maximize impact, grantors and nonprofits should consistently reach out to the communities they serve via multiple channels and solicit feedback often. Almost three-quarters of nonprofits report that stakeholders have become more interested in participating in recent years.
- Embrace diversity at every level. When nonprofits run by people of color are systematically denied resources, communities suffer. It isn’t just important for nonprofits to reflect the communities they serve – there’s also ample evidence from the private sector that diversity leads to greater innovation, higher financial performance, and improved outcomes in many other areas. Grantors can address this problem by giving all organizations a fair shot, while organizations can focus on assembling diverse boards and staff leadership. Funders themselves need to truly diversify if they haven’t already. People with lived experience are best positioned to make prominent funding decisions.
- Focus on the big picture. While 2020 was a difficult year for the nonprofit sector, charitable giving actually saw a significant increase over 2019. From the pandemic to nationwide attention on racial equity, it’s clear that donors are galvanized by the biggest issues society faces. This is why purpose-driven connections have become indispensable – these issues can only be addressed collaboratively, as they intersect in countless ways.
At a time when the nonprofit sector confronts many obstacles (from growing demand for services to the financial insecurity exacerbated by economic volatility over the past year and a half), purpose-driven connections are a way to establish mechanisms for mutual support. But more importantly, these connections can help nonprofits have a more powerful impact on the communities they serve.