Your nonprofit likely has an idealistic mission statement—one that doesn’t mention anything about overhead costs. And while finding ways to lower your costs may not inspire the kind of enthusiasm your purpose does, every dollar you save contributes to those you serve. There’s nothing wrong with spending money on overhead—au contraire. But, at the end of the day, the more money you save, the greater your potential impact.
Here are three practices you should implement to save your organization money.
1. Renegotiate necessities
Everything is negotiable, and many places offer discounts to nonprofit organizations. As you shop around, always ask if a company is able to donate or willing to lower the cost of their products. Even on services like insurance, phone and internet contracts—which may seem unchangeable—you can probably negotiate a better rate.
When you approach rate negotiation, the most effective method is to talk to someone directly. Call them on the phone or visit them in person. Avoid filling out online forms or dealing with automated systems, as they often aren’t equipped to offer the discounted rates you seek. Talk about the mission of your organization first and win them over to your side before bringing up prices. Ask what the company can offer and encourage them to earn your business.
If your current provider won’t give you a better rate, some internet providers offer cash incentives to switch over or enroll in multiple services, so don’t be afraid to change to take advantage of those deals.
2. Utilize volunteers
If you believe in the purpose of your organization, other people will too—so give them a way to get involved. There are many great places to find enthusiastic volunteers online, including JustServe and VolunteerMatch.
The key to building a reliable volunteer base is showing them specifically what you want them to accomplish. Be considerate of their time and talents and share in advance exactly what you need them to do. Volunteering often feels like a first date: your volunteers want to know what to wear, what time they should be ready, what time they will be home and what activities they will participate in. Be thorough in your description and you will attract more people.
Once you’ve drawn a pool of volunteers in, you need to keep them engaged in your cause. Maintain a loyal volunteer base by doing the following:
- Never ask them to come in to the office for something that takes less than an hour to complete.
- Express gratitude for their contributions both publicly and privately.
- Give them as much notice as possible for events and projects.
- Find ways to show them the impact of their work.
- Train volunteers to train other volunteers.
When directed effectively, volunteers will save your organization labor, resources and training costs. Plus, satisfied volunteers share their experiences with their networks and increase the visibility of your organization.
3. Redirect operations during slow months
Avoid any practices that will run your organization into the red, including overstaffing. Find when your busiest—and slowest—times are, and staff accordingly. You shouldn’t be staffed to capacity during winter months if you run a summer camp, for example. Instead, offer three- or six-month contracts to some employees instead of keeping them on the payroll all year. And if you have slower times even during your busy months, it is perfectly acceptable to cancel meetings or to consider teleconferencing to save on travel costs; you can nail down specifics over the phone or through email just as effectively as in real person most of the time.
In addition to scaling back, try to recognize when your organization has more free time and find productive ways to fill that time. Consider the following alternatives:
- Lease or rent out extra space that isn’t needed immediately.
- Use your staff’s available free time to make or update training materials for volunteers.
- Lend your staff and resources to other organizations that might help you in return at a later time.
- Organize and train volunteers for additional methods of fundraising.
Use your optimism and creativity to lower your costs. Your nonprofit is making the world a better place, and by cutting costs, you will have a larger footprint and impact more lives. Share these ideas with your staff and start applying them to your organization today.