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In a previous post I wrote how important it is to speak with your donors at impact level. What is the impact of your work? And what is an impact they seek to contribute to? What is important to them to help improve in this world? Sometimes I get the feeling that nonprofits think this means they need to speak in broad terms and need to be general and vague. No! You need to be crystal clear about what you do and aim to achieve. And you need a razor-sharp focus to stand a chance of achieving your aims. And one of the reasons is that without clear focus you will never convince a donor to invest.

Donors dream…

Donors have dreams. I have said that before. Donors have dreams. And they will bring their money to a nonprofit that helps them make their dreams come true. If your dreams are not aligned, donors will go elsewhere. And that’s OK. Because your donors are waiting for you to show them that you are the right match for them.

… and look for alignment

Don’t be vague to try and hold on to donors who are not a good match. Be clear in your communication about your mission, your vision and your values. About what it is that you do. And about the impact you (intend to) achieve through your work. That will make it easier for your donors to self-identify. To understand that they were looking for you to help their dreams become reality.

If you try to serve everyone you will serve no-one

Don’t formulate your vision and mission in a way that they include all the problems of the whole wide world. Especially if you are just starting out, this is wholly incredible. I sometimes receive messages from nonprofits that are working for sustainable development, youth employment, climate change, human rights, women’s empowerment, business development, agriculture, good governance and a few other areas, all at the same time. Very often, the number of focus areas vastly outnumbers the number of team members.

Be honest. If a starter nonprofit, with no resources and a very small team would be able to sort out all these issues at once – would we still be facing them? No!

Would you invest in someone who would claim to know it all and do it all? No!

No, you would probably be afraid they would have only general knowledge about each of the issues. And only a general interest in each of them, too.

They would not seem like the kind of people you trust to make your dream come true.

You would be afraid that your hard-earned money would not be used to its full possibility in the hands of amateurs.

And so you would look elsewhere, hoping to find a nonprofit that is exactly aligned and looks serious and professional enough to make a different in the world in the field that is dear to your heart.

Focus equals credibility

So you see that a clear focus and clear communication about it will help your donors identify you as a partner for their dreams. This is not only because it is easier for them this way. But also because it looks more credible if you are clear about the fact that you cannot solve everything that is wrong in this world, your country, your region or even your community. If you are clear about what you are not, and about what you cannot do, it feels almost more certain that you can do what you say you are doing. Because you come across as more honest and professional. More credible, in short.

But I don’t work in a vacuum?

But, you say, all problems are interconnected! How can we work on one issue, and not others? That will not really lead to much change, after all. And yes, you are right, many challenges and problems are connected. But that does not mean you yourself are best placed to work on all the linkages.

Plus, as you will see once you get started, if you manage to sort out one little step in the chain, this will have impact. It will encourage others to take care of other steps. It will maybe empower others to have impact in other steps. And if you set up partnerships you can form an official part of a chain of change. And focusing on your little niche in this chain will have infinitely more impact on the steps than if you spread yourself thin trying to be all to everyone.

Focus is king

So focusing is the best thing for clear communication, credibility with your donors and effectiveness of your work.

Of course, this does not mean that a focus you choose now, for your starter period maybe, will never change. Naturally, you can adjust the focus or add a focus area as you develop and grow, depending on what will help you be the best you can be.

Next steps

Before you reach out to any potential donor:

  1. Discuss your vision, mission and value statement with your team. This is your basis, the ground for all of your work. (check my free mini course here if you do not have such statement yet).
  2. Discuss with your team what is the best focus area for your work right now, for the next year or so. What is something that is small enough that you can achieve visible and tangible results. And big enough that these results will have meaning to others.
  3. Formulate your focus area and ask at least ten people that are not part of your organization what they think of this. Is it clear? Is it credible? Does it sound valuable to them? Does it touch them?

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free Facebook group

You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.