The most valuable resource at a nonprofit is the time of its paid employees and that of its volunteers. It is often useful to analyze how this time is being used in the various fund-raising projects as well as in those ongoing mission-related operations. Here is a common example.
Once a fundraising event or activity has been successful for the charity, organizations have a tendency to repeat these activities year after year. Often they do so without thinking hard about the amount of time invested by both staff and volunteers in the fundraising event, and what the event accomplishes in terms of revenue, relative to other activities. What's more, over time, membership demographics can change, donor profiles can change, and other charity events can begin siphoning off attendees to your event. That activity or event that once yielded large donations and brought in large numbers of new donors may barely pay for itself.
Time Volunteered is never 'Free'
Similarly, we as managers have a bad habit of viewing something we receive for free, for example, volunteer time at nonprofit organizations, as not having a value. We may give it a low value when actually its value is quite high. This is one of the more difficult challenges in managing nonprofits – – learning to understand the value of volunteer time, how to manage it best, and the overhead costs needed to generate it. We need to be sure to give volunteer time a value and add it to the expenses of fundraising costs when analyzing the returns from our fundraising activities.
It is often useful at the end of each year to develop a quantitative analysis of staff and volunteer time dedicated to fund-raising activities. An example of such an analysis appears below. Using excel we develop an X/Y bubble chart, where the y-axis is paid staff time and direct expenses and the x-axis is volunteer time (an imputed cost to account for different skill sets may be useful) and the bubble is the relative amount of net revenue generated by the activity.
If everything is working as it should, the largest bubbles will appear in the uppermost right hand quadrant of the graphic (See Telethon and Direct Solicitations bubbles), where large expenditures of time on the part of both paid and volunteer staff are rewarded with large amounts of net revenue (shown by the size of the bubble.)
If the opposite should hold true and those activities which generate the least amount of revenue are occupying a disproportionate amount of time on the part of the staff, the smallest bubbles will appear in the quadrants showing the greatest commitment in staff and volunteer resources. In cases like these, there is an opportunity to reallocate resources. (For example, see the relatively small net revenue bubble for Direct Mail). Nonprofit leaders here have either the opportunity to focus more time on higher return activities than Direct Mail, or an opportunity to dig down into why the source of funds (like Direct Mail) isn't earning its keep. The Golf Outing and the Gala can be grown.
Thinking of your fundraising activities as a portfolio with real, imputed costs for donated hours will allow nonprofit leaders to make more intelligent resource allocation decisions about how time is spent in the organization.