This article was written by Ashley Opliger for Declare. You can find the original article here (posted 5/5/2021).
I am often asked how our organization has been able to grow on an annual budget of less than $50K. Our small nonprofit, Bridget’s Cradles, is based in Wichita, Kansas. We donate knit and crocheted cradles to hospitals for grieving families to hold their tiny babies born into Heaven in the second trimester of pregnancy. I consider us a “small” nonprofit because we have a small headquarters, a small team of internal volunteers, and a small operational budget. But, our impact is anything but small! Last year, we comforted over 26,000 bereaved families with a cradle or memory keepsake. We are currently donating our cradles to over 1,025 hospitals in all 50 states!* (as of 5/5/21)
So how do we have such a significant impact on such a small budget? How can you do a lot with a little?
Here are three ways you can grow your organization with limited financial resources:
1. Harness the Power of Volunteers
Perhaps the most important aspect of growing an organization on a small budget is having an amazing team of volunteers! Without volunteers, we simply would not function! If you are just starting your nonprofit and do not have a space for volunteers to gather, that’s okay! For the first few years, our organization did not have a headquarters like we do now. But, we grew a loyal following of volunteers and met them at various locations for “volunteer work nights.”
We partnered with local churches, organizations, and businesses who let us use their space for a few hours each month! For a year, we met every month in the craft room in the back of our local Hobby Lobby. You may need to get creative depending on your mission and what tasks you’d have volunteers doing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other local organizations or businesses and ask them to partner with you! They may have resources (e.g., space, volunteers, materials, etc.) that they could give to you or let you borrow. Also, in these COVID times, volunteers are willing to work from home!
So how do you grow your volunteer base? The best way to gain volunteers is to hook them based on your mission!
If a volunteer is dedicated and passionate about your vision, they will be loyal to your cause! Make sure your volunteers understand the correlation between the task they are doing and its impact on those you serve. The best way to keep a volunteer is to consistently show them appreciation for all that they do for those your organization serves! This should be done in person and through other means. We regularly show our volunteers gratitude by hosting volunteer appreciation events, handing out personalized gifts, thanking them in person, sending handwritten cards, and acknowledging them in social media posts!
2. Be Willing to Sacrifice
Many people assume that successful organizations are built overnight! But what they don’t see are the countless hours and sacrifices made behind the scenes. Organizations are built on daily obedience, one small act at a time. For example, we do not have any paid staff members. I know this cannot be the case for every organization. But for us, we have leveraged the power of volunteers (and personal sacrifice) so that every dollar donated to our organization goes directly toward our programs and services.
As the nonprofit’s leader, I have been working full-time for free for over five years. My husband and I have made significant sacrifices in our personal finances to make this happen, but it’s worth it to us to invest in our ministry in this way. Not everyone can afford to work for free, but when it can be done (at least initially), it will allow your organization to grow because you can pour all your funds into your mission.
Other sacrifices to help grow your organization could include:
Learn new trades/crafts so that you don’t need to hire out extra work (e.g., our Director of Operations learned how to use InDesign so that we can design our own marketing materials).
Be willing to do tasks “beneath” you (e.g., I’m often the janitor at our headquarters, and I frequently do tedious data entry projects). Obviously, if you have the budget to hire these tasks out or delegate them to volunteers, you should. It’s essential to preserve your time as a leader. But, when you’re first starting, it’s normal to wear many hats and handle many different tasks. Don’t be afraid to jump in and get the job done!
I realize these suggestions may not sound like the typical advice you would expect to hear from a successful leader. But when you want to get a small nonprofit (with little resources) off the ground, sacrifice is often necessary!
3. Leave Room for God
Last but not least, leave room for God. Although I’m the Executive Director of our nonprofit, God is our CEO. He is the One directing and leading us. We rely on His provision and must remain obedient to His calling. Growing an organization on a small budget also means that you trust God to provide for you. In our five years of being a nonprofit, there were many times we took a leap of faith and chose to trust God, even when we weren’t sure if we would have the finances to cover a new program or event. Every single time God not only provided but did immeasurably more than we could have asked or imagined (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).
For example, in 2020, due to COVID-19, we had to plan an alternative event for our annual candlelight vigil on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. We ended up planning a quarter-mile Remembrance Drive that featured over 50,000 pink, blue, and white lights in memory of babies in Heaven. It was the biggest and most expensive event we’d ever planned, and it was during 2020 (the unprecedented and unpredictable year marked by financial security). Would people donate and help us cover the costs of the event? Yes, with God, all things are possible! We not only covered the event costs but incurred donations above and beyond. 2020 ended with our highest revenue to date.
Remember, He who promised is faithful. When your mission is in alignment with His will, nothing will be impossible for you! Leave room for Him to do miracles and amazing things through you and your organization!
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