5 Ways to Upgrade Your Nonprofit (Even Without Funding)

You read that right: Growth doesn’t have to be about funding. So, what should you focus on?

“How do I upgrade my nonprofit?”

It’s a question all of us nonprofit leaders ask.

And why wouldn’t we?

It’s natural to want growth. It’s natural to want to see our constituents happy.

The problem is, growth isn’t always in our control.

We can tweak our messages to donors…but we can’t control whether or not they’ll respond.

We can run campaigns…but we can’t control whether or not they’ll be successful.

When we can’t get the funding we need, we end up discouraged, exhausted, and even frustrated.

Want to hear a surprising new thought, though?

Upgrading your nonprofit doesn’t have to be about funding.

You heard that right!

It doesn’t have to be about donors changing their mind, or your cash flow.

It can be about something else entirely.




Read on and I’ll show you how.


I know, you want to take your nonprofit to the next level.

But the truth is, not many nonprofits get there.

The good news?

You don’t need more funding right now.

There are ways to get to the next level, and they are available to anyone.

Here are five you can do easily.

1. Ditch the “Thank You” Email Templates and Go for Real Appreciation  

Imagine this.

It’s your friend’s birthday, and you want to show her she’s special to you.

Since you know she loves the classics, you go ahead and dig up a first edition of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.

The cost is insane, but you go ahead and buy because you know it’ll make her smile.

You get the perfect giftwrap and ribbon. You spend 30 minutes making it perfect.

Then, you send it to her.

You wait for her to send you a message, telling you she loves the book.

Nothing happens.

You wait some more, thinking she’s busy.

After three days, you receive a message on your phone. “TY for the book!”

What do you think you’ll feel?

Now, imagine this.

What if, the evening after sending your present, you got a handwritten letter straight from her?

It’s packed with her own handwriting. She’s totally blown away by your present. There’s a photo of the book next to her bedside table.

Will you feel appreciated?

Of course.

Because the truth is, appreciation is essential.

According to an article in Forbes, we need to show appreciation daily.

Even Voltaire expressed this need hundreds of years ago.

Tips on showing appreciation in your nonprofit:

It’s easy to create an email template, plug in different names, and send it off to your donors.

But don’t do that.

People don’t want to feel like a generic name on a long list.

They want to feel special.

So, go ahead and buy some stationery. When you get a donation, sit down to write the giver a handwritten note.

Make it personal! If you know something unique about this person, include it. Add genuine compliments.

Remember, there’s no such thing as too much sincere gratitude and admiration.

Also, don’t limit gratitude and appreciation to your donors.

Spread the love everywhere.

Give handwritten notes to your staff, your volunteers, and your board members.

Note: Don’t mistake appreciation for flattery. People will instantly feel it if you’re flattering them with insincere words.

But also, don’t worry. It’s not hard to deeply appreciate someone. Simply spend a few moments thinking about them, and you’ll be able to come up with a list of traits you can genuinely appreciate.

2. Measure What Matters

Imagine yourself training for a race.

Your goal is to run a marathon in less than four hours.

So, you practice.

But there’s a problem.

You don’t know how to measure your speed.

You’re not sure how fast you should go to clock in a 3:30 time.

What happens?

You lose focus. You have no idea how to measure your progress.

Now, imagine you have a fitness band to help you.

The band tells you how fast you’re running. It also helps you figure out the speed you need to maintain to finish a marathon in less than four hours.

With this band, you train yourself to maintain speed over longer and longer distances.

You mark your progress.

When race day comes?

You got it.

You meet your goal and celebrate! ????

The point is, measuring helps us get closer to our goals.

In his article in Quick and Dirty Tips, Steve Robbins says this:

“At some point your goal is within reach. Then, you can start measuring how far you are from your goal, and concentrate on closing the gap.”

Now, let me ask you this.

Are you measuring your nonprofit’s progress?

And more importantly, are you measuring what matters?

How to measure what matters:

A great way to get everyone involved and motivated is to set up a white board in the middle of everything.

Then, write down the KPIs (key performance indicators) that matter the most.  

Have someone update them regularly.

This way, everyone knows how close you are to your goals.

3. Offer a Freebie

Ever attend a Timeshare presentation?

If you have, you probably didn’t go because you were interested in owning a Timeshare.

You probably went because of the free vacation + tickets to Disney World that came with attending the presentation.

No strings attached, of course.

As far as I know, this worked on tons of people. People who took time off work and drove miles to grab the freebie.


Because we all love freebies.

There’s nothing wrong with it.

So, if you want to expand your nonprofit’s reach, why not offer people a freebie to get their attention?

It’s called a lead magnet.

I know, you cringe. You don’t want to associate anything from the corporate “for profit” world with your nonprofit organization.

But if you take a second to think of it, you’ll see it works.

First, you’ll be giving people something truly valuable to enrich their lives. When you pack value into your freebie, you’re helping a ton of strangers beyond your constituents. 

Also, you’ll grow your email list. This allows you to reach more people and spread awareness about your mission.

Check out this example from Jess on Instagram.

Clicking the link to her masterclass takes you to this page.

When you look closer, you’ll see that this masterclass isn’t free.

But instead of asking for payment, you can ask for people’s email addresses instead.

It’s that simple.

Here’s another example from the Medical Science Liaison Society.

How to come up with an amazing lead magnet:

Create a freebie people will love.

Offer it on your website and social media pages.

Build your email list and use it to spread awareness of your cause.

Give yourself a pat on the back!

Remember, growing your email list has ENDLESS benefits.

Want to get some awesome freebie ideas from me? Follow me on Instagram at @sparrowsolutions and send me a DM.

4. Send Forth Your Online Rabble Rousers

Ever eat at a restaurant because a friend told you their pasta carbonara was out of this world?

Or choose one brand over the other because your colleague told you it was better?

I bet you have.

Because the truth is, we almost never make decisions on our own.

We need people to tell us stories. Convince us. Convert us.

Now, what if you had people on your side who’d spread the word about your cause?

You’re right.

You’ll get your story out there in no time.

How to spread the word about your nonprofit’s mission:

Formally charge a group on social media to spread the news about your mission. These ambassadors are your disciples and storytellers.

But why social media? 

Well, there are currently 3.8 billion people on social media today. That’s a HUGE audience for your nonprofit’s stories.

Also, social media gives you the chance to be unique. To touch hearts. To spread stories that convert.

Here’s an example of an amazing nonprofit sharing their stories on social.

5. Use Stunning Photography

As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

And here’s an interesting fact.

When people hear information, they’ll likely remember 10% of it.

But when the information is coupled with a picture?

They’ll remember 65% of it. ????

So, if you’ve been telling your nonprofit’s story without pictures so far…

…it’s time to stop.

It’s time to start capturing your organization’s heart with stunning photography.

Check out this example from Kiva.


I know, running a nonprofit is hard.

There are days when you feel you’re going nowhere.

The funding trickles in.

Your staff and volunteers are uninspired.

But the great news is, funding doesn’t have to be the measure of your organization’s success.

Because of course, you can’t control how much funding you get.

What you can control?

How much you upgrade your nonprofit in the five unique ways I mentioned above.

So, go ahead.

Appreciate people. Measure what matters. Offer amazing gifts in exchange for the chance to raise awareness for your nonprofit. Tell stories on social media. Take photos.

With these steps, you’ll explode your impact and take your nonprofit to the next level.