Bianca Crocker On Strategic Planning For Small Nonprofits


Small organizations make up a lot of the nonprofit industry. In Canada alone, 80% of our charitable organizations are bringing in less than $500,000 a year. 

Despite this, it’s still the larger charities that often take up a lot of the media attention and room in people’s wallets. But that shouldn’t discourage smaller organizations. Small nonprofits are often the pillars of their communities because they are started by people who have a passion for the cause they serve and can have large impacts. With the right guidance, knowledge and tools smaller organizations have the power to grow and become sustainable. 

Bianca Crocker is a nonprofit consultant who has been in the industry for over 15 years. She is the founder of the Small Nonprofit Alliance and the host of the Small but Mighty podcast. Passionate about helping nonprofits with their fundraising efforts, Bianca joins the show to discuss
  • How the pandemic has affected the way small nonprofits fundraise
  • The importance of strategic planning for long term sustainability 
  • How some small organizations are able to find long-term sustainability and connect with their community 
  • The biggest problems facing small nonprofits and how to approach them realistically 

Official Transcript

Let's learn all about strategic fundraising for small organizations in today's episode of Fundraising Superheroes. 
Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente. As a non-profit software solution, we want to help organizations unlock the true power of their data. Our software allows nonprofits to save hours of time, and we would love to connect with you. So give us a visit at, to learn more and stay updated on the latest in fundraising by following us on LinkedIn and Facebook @trustdriven.
Now, just because you're a small charity, it doesn't mean you can't fundraise strategically.
In fact, it's more crucial that small nonprofits prioritize fundraising in order to grow. No one knows that better than Bianca Crocker. As the founder of the Small Nonprofits Alliance and managing director of Fish Community Solutions, Bianca has 14 years of experience in the nonprofit sector specializing in strategy, fundraising and communications. She's a certified fundraising executive with a passion for helping small nonprofits fundraise strategically. I'm so thrilled to have her on the show all the way from Australia so thank you Bianca for joining us.
Thanks, Sabrina. It's great to be here.
So can you start off by telling our audience why it was important for you to form the small nonprofit alliance?
We started the small nonprofit alliance about two years ago now. And I guess prior to that, I've been working in the nonprofit sector as a professional fundraiser for about 15 years. So I've worked with many different charities in that time, both large and small. And one thing I think I found was when working with the small guys is that even though they have really great missions and they're doing some really amazing work and really making an incredible change in the community that they're working in, sometimes just for the fact that they're small, they don't necessarily have the knowledge or the know-how to do some of the business sides of their work and to deliver great fundraising or whatever it might be.
So I really felt that just because they were small, they shouldn't be penalized, I guess, for that, because there are so many small organizations in our community, especially here in Australia, that are doing some really, really wonderful things. So I wanted to create a place or a virtual place that would allow the small nonprofits to come together, to connect with each other, to be connected to experts, and also to allow them to learn and grow in their own space and in a comfortable place.
Where they are getting access to information and advice that is really relevant to them, so you might go to a conference or something like that and there's some really inspiring stories there from other fundraisers or from other organizations, but all the time they might be bigger organizations. So while they're inspiring and it's really great to hear those stories, sometimes it can be really hard to relate to them if you're working in a small organization, because budgets are really different, resources are really different.
So I really felt that there was a need to sort of have space, like I said, a virtual space for the small nonprofit sector.
Oh, a thousand percent. One of the things I noticed, especially at the beginning of the podcast when I was interviewing a lot of smaller organizations, is the difference between the internal structure? Because a lot of smaller organizations with the founder, you know, they don't come from a nonprofit or development background. They probably had a different job and they started this from something that really struck a chord within them. And it's really hard when you're starting out to make those connections.
I know I had a lot of people asking me. They're like, oh, can you direct me here? Or do you know where I can get resources to help me out with marketing or my financials? And it's difficult to make those connections. So it's really awesome that you've created the space where they can learn from other people in the industry.
Yeah, and I agree totally, the smaller sectors, I mean, most organizations, in all honesty, I started by someone who wanted to create a difference in the world for whatever reason.
But often in smaller organizations, they are founder-run and led. And those founders don't necessarily have the experience that just really passionate about a particular cause or a particular issue. And they want to do the best they can in that area. So, yeah, I think it's definitely a need, especially here in Australia. There's not a service or provider that sort of is speaking to this group just solely and in the couple of years that we've been going, we've been having really positive feedback and it's growing quite well, which is good.
That's fantastic. So what is it really mean to fundraise strategically? How has strategic fundraising become even more vital during the pandemic?
Fundraising is a really interesting concept because I think sometimes in many organizations and like I said earlier, I've worked in larger organizations that also haven't been particularly strategic. So it's not an issue that's just facing small organizations. But strategic funding is really important because you need to step back and really think about what you're actually doing. For smaller organizations, resources is a big issue, whether it's staffing or money or both. And so you want to make sure you're making the best use of your time and your dollars and you don't want to waste efforts doing things in a reactive way.
So being strategic about what you want to do and how you're going to raise money for your organization is a really important aspect. I think, of being successful as a small nonprofit or as any nonprofit, really. So it really means being proactive, I guess, and purposeful about what you do. And I think during the pandemic, obviously, it's been a really tough year the last 12 months or so for many people and businesses, not just charities.
For businesses and charities, obviously, plans have sort of gone out the window. Any plans that people had in place before the covid-19 pandemic hit really became sort of obsolete pretty quickly. So while there was a period, I think, early on where people were quite reactive to what was happening, I think now as things sort of settle and I use that word quite loosely because I understand we're still in the pandemic and it's not really settled. But I think what we do know now is that we are in a pandemic.
So we have that, I guess, surety around things. But I think it's really important that while you don't need to necessarily be strategic longer term, I think it's still important to spend a little bit of time planning and being strategic for the short term. So it might be even if it's month by month or two to three months at a time. I think it's important that we still have some plans in place and like I said, to be purposeful about what we're doing.
So an emphasis on the planning and taking the time to kind of review everything in the year. And I guess that's a lot of time that some organizations who, especially when they're just starting out, don't really have. As someone who's worked closely with many smaller nonprofits. What's the biggest challenge you find them facing when it comes to strategic fundraising?
Yeah, that's a great question, Sabrina, it's interesting, I mean, it can be quite different for different organizations.
I think, exactly what you just said, actually having space and the time to actually invest into that. Developing the strategy and making that work, I think a lot of organizations. When you just are so busy from day to day, week to week, either delivering your services or trying to bring in money, you can sometimes get so caught up with things that you don't actually think you've got time to set aside to do some big picture thinking, so to speak.
But I think it's really important that all organizations make the time. So it is really difficult. And that's probably one of the biggest challenges is making sure that people understand the critical nature of being able to do that strategic planning. So I think a lot of the organizations that I work with that is definitely one of their biggest challenges is either having the time to do it. And then if they do put the time aside, knowing exactly how to create that strategic plan for their organization or the fundraising strategy for their work.
So that's something that I do a lot of, actually, whether it's in a coaching and consulting manner, we sort of can run some workshops with people like planning and strategic planning workshops, but also through the small nonprofit lines. We offer a lot of masterclasses. We do online webinars and we do various topics. But a lot of the time they're around strategy and that sort of stuff. And we also have a podcast as well. And part of our podcast, one of the types of episodes we have, they're called Short Stuff and their advice for small nonprofits in the three or four minutes.
So those really short pieces of information. But we get lots of feedback from our members about some of the challenges and the topics that they'd like us to cover. So we do that in those episodes as well, which really allows us to be quite flexible in what we're responding to and to be able to respond to the changing need. But definitely that strategic thinking and making time to do that is probably the biggest problem. And I think if I could just add the other thing is probably the actual format around how a strategic plan or fundraising comes together.
A lot of people have this perception that it needs to be a 20 or 30 page document or more. That's going to guide their organization or guide their fundraising planning. But in my experience, the simpler you can make these documents, even if it's a fundraising plan that's a few pages long or it's a strategic plan on a page, those sorts of concepts are really, really important because they help you distill the real critical points down and you don't want to create a document that nobody has time to review throughout the year.
So by creating something that's short and succinct is really, really important.
Yeah, it's always quality over quantity.
Absolutely, and I think there is there is a big misconception, because you might say strategic plans that come out of big consulting agencies and things like that, and they're really big documents, but that's that's not necessary. You can separate your operational plan out. And so that doesn't need to bein there. But I've just recently done some work with an organization where we actually just created their strategic plan for a 12 month period.
Often you might do more than that. But in these current times, the 12-month strategic plan is probably plenty because we don't know how quickly the world's changing at the moment. But we do that and we did a workshop around it. And we created a one-page plan, obviously didn't have a huge amount of detail to it, but it has the main pillars around what they need to do, what their focus is and what their plans are in a high level to achieve their goals.
Do you find when you're helping smaller profits through that challenge? Is the solution often just education, like giving them the resources, like what you're doing with your webinars and your podcasts to know what an effective strategic plan looks like no matter the size or how you shape their goals. Is it a lot of just kind of educating and helping and offering that hand?
Yes, Sabrina, you're exactly right. A lot of the time it is. And what's really interesting, and I found this before I started the alliance, but. One of the tricky things and I get it, I think it goes for all walks of life, not just in the fundraising space, but the biggest challenge sometimes we have as humans is we don't know what we don't know.
So if you don't know that you don't know something, it can be really challenging to find what you need to know, if that makes sense. But I think it's so from a fundraising and small nonprofit space.
There are obviously budget and resource constraints, so they don't have the financial means to pay large amounts of money for fundraising consultants or any type of strategic consultants. But it's also partly because they don't have the not always, but that some of the time they don't have the understanding of how important something is that they should actually invest in it to get the support that they need, because the benefits will far outweigh that initial investment. So I think a really good thing that we're able to do through the alliance is because we have a free membership, we have two levels of membership.
So one's free. And then there's that's quite the basic level. And then now that membership is quite affordable as well. It's only twenty dollars a month. So for those prices and really even the free one, it's giving people access to information that's relevant to them, which is really key, and helping educate them on certain topics so that then they actually learn enough to know if they need to learn more about that particular thing. And I think that's, you know, I mean, an example that I can give is so when I talk to people about their websites.
We end up having a conversation always about the SEOs, the search engine optimization, and often what I would say to people is that's not an area that I think people need to worry about, as in, yes, you need to get your SEO right. But that's something you need to personally learn and understand how it works. It's something as long as you do it, when you set your website up and engage with someone on a regular basis, maybe every 12 months or so, because SEO criteria changes over time, that's something that you can outsource.
So all you need to know in that space is that it's something you need to be aware of and it's something you need to get done.
And for that particular topic, that's all your level of knowledge needs. But you don't need to understand it. Whereas if I was talking to someone about how to develop their fundraising strategy or how to develop a bequest program or legacy program, whatever it might be, obviously you need to understand the intricacies of how all that works because that's really critical to you being able to deliver that work. So I think that's really important just to get people to understand what they need to know what the really important factors are, what's less important, and how to distinguish between the two.
So after going on the site and just so everyone listening to some context about the actual scale of small charities in both Australia and Canada, about 84 percent of Australia's charities are making under a million dollars a year. And here in Canada, that number is very similar. About 80 percent of our charities are making under five hundred thousand dollars a year. Now, that's not to say that small nonprofit can't thrive because I know smaller nonprofits in my community that have been going strong for 10, 15, 20 years.
What does it take to find that level of stability as a small non-profit? What is the secret to that sustainability? How do these small organizations thrive?
What's interesting is that the large charities that are in that remaining 15 or 16 percent, still make up the lion's share of the total revenue, if that makes sense. So that's the size that they really still outweigh the other ones. But I think as you said, there's a lot of smaller organizations that are really well established, have been around for many years, are really engaged with their volunteers in particular. A lot of small organizations have a high proportion of volunteers not just supporting the organization, but potentially leading and running various parts of the organization.
I'm actually on the board of an organization called Indigo Foundation. And last year we just celebrated our 20th anniversary and our annual turnover is less than four hundred thousand dollars a year. So we're quite a small organization, but we're doing some really important work in some of the communities. So we do some international development and community-led development work. And the work that we've been doing with our partners overseas is really important and is actually making really profound differences in the communities on a small scale.
But in the actual communities where we're working, some really important changes are happening and some of our partnerships in that organization have been around for 10 or 15 years. So I guess for the smaller charities that have been around for longer than they really well embedded in communities, whether it's in that example of Indigo Foundation, whether it's an overseas community or if it's just a local community where they operate in a local context. So, yeah, I think it is really important that we don't just brush the small organizations aside just because of the annual turnover.
That's not how we should judge the success or the importance or the impact even that these organizations can have. And I think for the organizations that might be relatively new or young, they can start to think about how they make themselves sustainable or starting to move in that direction. So they will still be here in 10, 15 or 20 years. So I think some of the things around that I'd like to say is probably that people need to remember not to.
Oh, they don't forget, sorry, too, about the longer-term fundraising aspects, I think that's really important there with their fundraising goal. Sometimes we can get so caught up in making sure we've got the money coming in next month or next six months or for this financial year or whatever it might be that we're not really actively pursuing longer-term fundraising goals and obviously different fundraising activities and programs, you know, do different things. Some of them are all about creating money now and some are about building a sustainable base or building a foundation to create sustainable fundraising income in coming years and bequests and legacies.
This is one of the ones that first come to mind. So there's a lot of organizations that don't often think about the questions and legacies because they're like, well, we don't we're not going to get that money for five or 10 years, so we won't worry about it. We'll do that later. But if you keep saying you'll do it, how you never actually get around to doing it. So I think that thinking about the balance of the fundraising activities you have is really important.
And probably the other thing would be around being a bit risk-averse or reducing the risk by having a more diverse fundraising plan or fundraising strategy as well. So not just putting all your eggs in one basket. So if you've been fortunate enough to get a business to support your organization, that's great. If they're giving you a large amount of money, that's really good. But you don't want to just rely on one or two sources of funding or fundraising activities.
You want to try and bring in a few. And obviously, you've got to manage that with your own resources. So smaller organizations may not have as big a fundraising program or as broad a fundraising program as smaller charities. But I think it's still important to consider what they are doing.
When you're helping out a smaller organization, what is the biggest thing you recommend they should focus on? We talked a lot about community engagement and making sure you have diverse fundraising sources. Is there anything else that organizations are prioritized in their fundraising efforts?
Yeah, that's a good question. It is tricky because it does depend a lot of the time on the organization and what is what's important to them. Sometimes the work that A, that a community organization is doing can really define or shape their fundraising program as well. But with that in mind, I think one thing that all all organizations should be looking towards spending more time getting right and refining is probably their digital fundraising. And that's something I think I need in digital communications.
And I think that's something that through the pandemic, at least a lot of people have perhaps realized because a lot of face to face events, community events and those dinners and those sorts of things have have been shot down, especially when different areas of your community or your city or your country or whatever go into lockdowns or different types of restrictions. So so thinking about how you can approach these you know, these sorts of fundraising dilemmas, I guess, but from a digital perspective is really important, thinking about how you can use.
Social media fundraising, sorry, Facebook is definitely what I would always tell charities to at least make sure they've got right. I don't think you need to worry about being on five or six different social media platforms. But fundraising. I'm sorry, I keep saying fundraising. Facebook is definitely one of the main ones. And I think there are a few reasons for that. They've got, you know, again, their lion's share of the population nowadays has a Facebook account.
Obviously, depending on the age group that you were trying to attract and trying to connect with, you might have something different. But generally speaking, the majority of the adult population in most parts of the world, to be honest, most parts of the western world have Facebook. And the other thing is, I think over the past 12 months, Facebook has done a lot more to support charities as well in improving their fundraising aspects. I know in Australia, 12 months ago in Australia, we were having some very significant bushfires, which I know and global attention.
And there was so much devastation caused a lot of wildlife were killed and homes were lost. And unfortunately, we didn't have. Too many loss of human life, which was good, but the other types of devastation outside of that was just enormous. One of the biggest bushfire seasons we've had in many, many years. But there was a lot of fundraising and donations that were made from old people around the world. And one of one sort of case that we talk about, a little case study from a fundraising perspective is this an Australian comedian named Bob Orr and she sort of started raising money through her Facebook for her local fire service because she was staying with her parents, I think, or her in-laws or some family.
And they were very close and caught up with the fire. So she was personally affected. So she started just trying to raise. I think she wanted to initially raise twenty thousand dollars to help, you know, buy a new fire truck for the town or something like that. And it raised fifty million dollars. That's Australian. But 50 million Australian dollars is raised through a Facebook fundraising platform. And as my understanding is to date, that's still the largest fundraising through Facebook that's been done in the world.
So not that I think everyone should aspire to be raising fifty million dollars, because that's definitely not the usual way. But I think what it has allowed is it allowed more people in the community to say that fundraising through Facebook is a legitimate thing.
So more donors, supporting organizations that way, especially new donors, like not your regular donors or the loyal supporters that you've had for many years, they're probably not going to just stop supporting you through other means and jump onto Facebook. It's a really good way to bring in new supporters. I think so, yeah. Digital fundraising and communications is something that I think everyone probably needs to really have a good look at over the next 12 months.
Oh, for sure. And there are so many different ways for Facebook. I live to know before we go today, what's your final piece of advice that you have for charities as we continue to get through the pandemic?
Um, I think. Something that we've been saying a lot to our members, and I know I've been personally saying to different organizations that I work with, is to really stay close to your donors and really keep that donor engagement and communication going, even if you've had to stop some of your services or your programs or you've had to pause them for a while. I think really keeping that communication up with your supporter base is really important. And even if it means redirecting some of your team, whether they're volunteers or paid staff, to helping you connect with these people, I think that's really critical
I know some organizations here in Australia in the early stages of the pandemic when some of them had to shut some of their programs down or cause their programs for a while, they were redirecting program staff just to make calls to some of the donors, partly as a tourniquet piece, just to sort of checking. But it was also partly because everyone, we'd gone into a big lockdown here in Australia for most parts of the country. And it was really just a lot of organizations wanting to check in with their supporters just to sort of say we're not asking for a donation.
We just want to tell you this is what we're doing. But we also just want to make sure you're doing OK as well. So I think really staying connected with those closest to you is important. And again, even if it's not about asking for money at this stage because maybe some people aren't working or they've lost jobs, it's really just important to stay connected to them because when this all blows over, that's really loose term to use in a pandemic.
But there will come a time when the global pandemic will be behind us and we will want to continue these relationships with our donors. And we don't want to have been the lost cousin that we haven't spoken to a year or two. So I think that's really probably my main piece of advice. And sometimes it can be hard because if you've changed your programs, we've not been doing much. You might want to you know, you might be wondering, well, I really don't have too much to say, but I think it's really important, even if you can, just to pick one piece, one piece of information out of one little story to to share or even if it's going back into your archives and doing it, remember when PAICE or something like that.
But I think having some level of continued contact with your supporters is really critical.
Well, thanks again, Bianca, for coming on to the show. For those listening, you can learn more about the Small Nonprofits Alliance on their website., Bianca also hosts her own podcast called Small But Mighty where she shares advice, stories and experiences from small non-profit leaders and fundraisers. I had a chance to listen to a few episodes, and the podcast is absolutely phenomenal. My personal favourite that I recommend you listen to is the two biggest lessons learned from 2020 for small nonprofits. In that episode, Bianca sits down with her colleague Kristie to review the year and they really discuss it in a positive light that I know kind of put us in the right mindset for 2021
 I have that episode linked in the description box for you to check out. And if you want to stay updated on Fundraising Superheroes, we would love if you can subscribe where you listen to your podcasts, leave a rating if you can and of course, follow us @trusrdriven on social media.
Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast Mar 10, 2021, 12:00 AM

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