Nonprofits often operate on shoestring budgets. The pressure is high, the hours are long, the competition is tough. Now, m0re than ever, nonprofits nonprofit professionals are seeking ways to save money.
Whether your nonprofit is struggling to make the ends meet or you’re just finding ways to effectively lower your costs whilst not harming the nonprofit’s mission – this article is for you.
There are many reasons why a nonprofit should seek to save money, but ultimately, it’s so much easier for a nonprofit to cut costs and save money than it is to raise more.
How to Save Money as a Nonprofit – 17 Ideas:
1. Use All the Tax Breaks You Are Entitled To
In the United States, in some states, nonprofits can get a refund on sales tax – although it’s not automatic. Check if your state is eligible, save all receipts and apply for your refunds where applicable.
Do your research and make sure you’re not paying for anything that you don’t have to be paying for. Make sure you check with your tax advisor before you make any moves.
2. Leverage Online Resources
There is a sea of free and affordable online resources for nonprofits out there. Using them can significantly reduce costs for your nonprofit – especially since these tools can nowadays do a lot of what nonprofits traditionally outsourced or hired for.
Some examples are:
– MailChimp: An e-mail marketing tool that lets you easily customize and brand your emails. You can use their range of templates or create your own.
– Canva: Assists in the creation of visual content for social media and marketing materials. It offers thousands of templates, making it quick and easy to create appealing graphics.
– Google for Nonprofits enables free access to a suite of premium tools such as email, storage, surveys, webinars, and video-conferencing. Another fantastic program offered here is the Google Ad Grants program that provides eligible nonprofits with up to $10,000 per month in Adwords advertising credits. Take advantage of this to raise awareness, promote your website and reach your target audience.
3. Use an Online Donations Software
If your nonprofit doesn’t accept online donations yet, now is the time to upgrade. Start using a donation system that will allow you to accept and manage your online donations. Donorbox is a reliable, fast, and efficient donation system that you can embed to your already existing website or install as a popup widget. Donorbox donation software is free if you get less than $1k in donations in a month.
Once your Donorbox system is up and running, make sure you encourage your supporters to start donating online. Once they get in the habit of doing so, you won’t have to send out expensive printed materials to fundraise or thank donors. Physical fundraising is notoriously expensive, from printing to events to door-to-door fundraising. And moreover, online fundraising is the future – so the sooner your nonprofit gets into it the better.
4. Downsize on Office and Supplies
One of the easiest ways to downsize on supplies is to create a detailed inventory of all of your office supplies, go through them one by one, and then re-evaluate which of them are really necessary to your nonprofit’s activities.
In addition to that, you probably don’t need as large of an office space as you currently have. A great way to downsize on office space is to allow your employees to work remotely. In this way, you can reduce the number of desks needed or if you’re a smaller nonprofit – maybe even eliminate the office altogether. Some nonprofits choose to sign up for an office-sharing space where they schedule meeting rooms or offices just when they need them.
If it’s possible for your nonprofit to work in close proximity to fellow organizations without disrupting productivity, sharing an office and building with another nonprofit is also an effective method to cut costs.
5. Use Contract Workers and Interns
Using contract workers is a great way to save money as a nonprofit. Some of the activities that nonprofits carry out, especially for very specific programs, can and should be carried out by contract workers.
These activities are usually the ones that require specialized skills. Instead of investing time in training a current employee in those skills or hiring someone full-time, hire a contract worker to execute them.
Another way to save money is to offer internships to university students – some of them are required to complete an internship as part of their degree and will be happy to be able to do so with your nonprofit.
6. Evaluate Program Expenses All the Time
If you want to save money, you need to keenly observe your budget and your expenses. Make sure you analyze program expenses and annual budget on a regular basis.
This is a common business practice, but it seems that it’s often forgotten about in the nonprofit world. Most nonprofits track expenses only for their annual reports and/or to fulfill grant requirements – but there is so much more that can be done in this area. Be proactive in finding creative opportunities to save or drive efficiency within your operations.
For each activity performed in your organization, ask: Does it make sense to keep doing this activity? What would happen if we stopped doing it? Are the benefits worth the cost of continuing it? Can someone else perform this activity at less cost?
7. Recruit Volunteers
Recruiting volunteers is one of the most fail-proof ways a nonprofit can save money. Recruiting volunteers, however, is not about obtaining ‘free labor’. Instead of money, your organization should offer a great opportunity for volunteers to acquire skills and knowledge and contribute to a cause they care about.
Make sure you give your volunteers meaningful tasks and appreciate them regularly. Volunteer retention, like employee retention, is very important!
And while many nonprofits traditionally think of volunteers as high school or college students, many working professionals will also donate skills or time to help your nonprofit, and you can even recruit managerial-level volunteers by reaching out to retired professionals.
8. Save Money and the Environment
Another great way your nonprofit can save money is by looking at small, often office and admin-related processes and items, that often add up to enormous expenses if left unexamined:
– Save energy: Set back temperatures during unoccupied times, turn off lights and equipment when unused, and install efficient lighting.
– Switch to digital document storage: Store documents with Google, Box, Dropbox, or another cloud storage provider so you can access and file your documents from anywhere. This reduces printing costs and reduces the need for a lot of storage space (that takes up valuable and expensive office space).
– Ditch coffee pods: Go back to the original coffee pot instead of using plastic single-serve coffee pods. Make space in the office for employees to keep mugs and cups in order to cut down on disposables.
– Use electronic mail: Use e-mail instead of regular mail where possible. Choose to receive your office utility bills via e-mail and find software through which you can sign contracts online.
9. Buy Second Hand and Seek Donations
Many large for-profit organizations will donate furniture or technology hardware that is still in good condition. Keep an eye out for these donations or actively reach out and make some corporate partner friends.
It’s a win-win situation – you are able to save money and they are able to reduce waste and do some good. If you can’t find any companies that are donating at that moment, always look to buy second hand instead of new.
10. Make Use of Your Board of Directors
Your nonprofit Board of Directors is one of your most valuable resources. Oftentimes, nonprofits don’t get the most out of having a Board.
In addition to using your board members to fundraise, also capitalize on your board for cutting costs. Ask them to use their contacts to find people willing to donate the goods and services you need or to sponsor your projects.
Your Board might also have valuable insights on specific ways your nonprofit could cut costs since they often have a birds-eye perspective of your organization and might see something that you don’t.
11. Keep Your Employees
This might not seem like an obvious way to save money, but employee retention is a great way to save money as a nonprofit.
The costs of hiring and training new staff are incredibly high. This is why it’s important to pay attention to your company culture, incentives, rewards, motivation and more – all to keep your employees happy.
Happy employees stay and work better (which also saves more money)!
12. Reduce Meeting Expenses
Especially if your nonprofit is national or international, meeting expenses can quickly add up: flights, trains, gas reimbursements, hotels, meals… You name it.
Use video conferencing instead. There are a lot of free tools available out there – e.g. Skype, Google Hangouts, but you can also invest in a paid internet-based meeting platform instead of requiring everyone to come to the office (e.g. Webex).
Make sure that all of your meetings have an agenda and that desired outcomes are established ahead of time so that staff time isn’t wasted on trying to figure out what decisions need to be made or on giving unnecessary updates.
13. Invest in Fundraising
Spending money to save money seems counterintuitive. However, if you want to save money in the long-term, you can’t cheap out on the fundraising.
Fundraising is the bread and the butter of nonprofits. It’s what keeps the doors open and it’s what allows nonprofits to work towards delivering their missions. Money that is well invested in fundraising can easily quadruple later on.
Naturally, it is first necessary to evaluate the current fundraising activities and see what’s the return on investment on each one before choosing which activities to ditch and which ones to invest in.
14. Create Robust Training Resources
Whilst creating comprehensive, effective, and informative training resources for staff, contracted workers, and volunteers might be a huge investment in time and money upfront – the investment will quickly pay off.
Training employees and volunteers take a lot of time, especially if you have a high turnover rate. By investing in creating robust training resources, you can cut down on the staff time and other resources that are needed to train each new cohort.
15. Assess Your Vendors Regularly
If you’re looking to save money, it’s very important to avoid single sourcing and to assess your vendors. Single sourcing is the practice of choosing a single vendor as a source for one or more materials or products. Although that saves time and effort, ‘shopping around’ (finding multiple vendors for various materials or products) can save money.
That way, you are able to compare prices and services of multiple vendors on the market.
Finally, avoid the trap of the “that is the way things have always been done” mentality, especially when it comes to vendors. Don’t keep a vendor on board just because they’ve been your vendor for years.
Annual, semi-annual, or quarterly assessments of your vendors are necessary to stay on top of overhead costs and efficiency.
16. Retain Your Donors
Donor retention is a fundraising method/strategy that seeks to ensure that donors keep giving. Regular, monthly, and annual donors are all forms of retained donors, as they give multiple gifts to nonprofits over long periods of time.
The main goal is to have as many donors to keep giving as much as possible for as long as possible.
Losing donors is expensive. When donors are lost, then your nonprofit may have to raise more in new contributions to meet the financial goals, which requires more effort, time, and money to be put towards new donor acquisition.
Finally, donor retention allows nonprofits to have reliable and steady revenue from year to year, and this frees up time and space to innovate and do the work that helps the beneficiaries.
17. Create an Accountability Culture
Employees make up an organization. Even if you work hard to roll out and implement all of the money-saving strategies above, if your employees aren’t on board – it won’t work. Or at best, you won’t get as much out of it as you could.
Create a transparent culture in your nonprofit where employees know as much as possible about the organization’s finances. Encourage healthy and frequent conversations about how to save money, without it becoming a burden or a source of fear in any way.
Create a culture in which everyone feels a shared accountability for cutting costs and saving money. This is when real money-saving magic will happen!
Saving money as a nonprofit is almost imperative. It’s very important to critically assess your activities as an organization and then find ways to cut costs where cutting costs will be beneficial.
This is not to say that your nonprofit should become obsessed with saving money to the point where it causes stress for everyone involved. Saving money for the sake of saving money is not the goal here. Saving money to achieve more impact is.
For example, for Akshaya Patra – an organization in India that serves lunchtime meals to kids in need – a focus from the start on designing low-cost model means that each additional meal it serves costs only pennies, even as it prepares higher-quality meals than those its peers can offer. In College Summit’s – an organization in the US that prepares students for college and career – a recent product redesign achieved dramatically lower costs per school served, meaning that College Summit can work with 600 percent more schools in the coming years for only a 60 percent increase in the organization’s budget.
To create a positive and encouraging money-saving culture, everyone in your nonprofit should remember your “why”. Once everyone at your nonprofit starts thinking about money in terms of how much more impact your nonprofit can have – a real transformation will follow!