What Does The Demise of Ringling Bros. Have To Do With Your Nonprofit?

Is Your Nonprofit like Ringling Bros?What is the difference between Netflix and Blockbuster? Cirque de Soleil and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baiiley Circus?  Amazon and Barnes & Noble? In all three cases, they started out with a very similar product, or at least a similar product offering.  Now, one is thriving and one is well, not. In fact, Ringling Bros. will fold up its tent on May 21st.  Now the question is, what does the demise of Ringling Bros. have to do with your nonprofit?

Many nonprofits think that if they occasionally post to Facebook (then use the same image for Instagram) and have a mobile friendly site they are up to date.  But that is just not enough.  Barnes and Noble created a website to try to rival Amazon and I’m sure it helped retain some of their business.  But now, their stock is worth 1/5th its value at its peak in 2006. Are you okay with retaining 1/5th of your donors?

Nonprofits cannot rely on their history with a donor

We live in a society where people care about what you do for them today.  They are not looking to nonprofits for more t-shirts or mugs, but they do want to feel the love.  They want to know that your nonprofit is thinking about the future of the organization, its mission and, especially, the future of their relationship with the organization. They want to know that you are:

  • Considering alternate funding streams. I recently passed a school for the blind that opened a low vision store. To me, that is an interesting way to bring people onto the campus to see all the good work while creating a small revenue stream.
  • Investing in donors by having focused staff that are not constantly overworked and/or turning over. How do you know?  Do conversations with major donors often start with something like, “I’m sorry it’s been so long,” “I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to meet yet,” or “I know the event is in two weeks but I hope you can still come.”
  • Investigating what other similar nonprofits are doing across the country. You don’t have to be the innovator, you can collect ideas and still feel fresh. What are other family service agencies doing to replace government funding? What are other religious organizations doing to attract millennials/Generation Y? What does staffing infrastructure look like at the nonprofits that have the donors you covet?

Nonprofits who think they can stay the same may end up like Ringling Bros. –  thinking tradition will win out over change

But it only took one story to hit social media to cause the decline of an institution.  It’s not that people weren’t aware of the elephants on trains before then, but suddenly it was impossible to ignore.

I am the perfect example of someone who grew up going to see the three-ring circus. But when I had children, I took them to the Big Apple Circus instead. Don’t give your donors the opportunity to move on before you consider your nonprofit’s path forward, plan to start evolving today.

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