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3 Misconceptions About Large Nonprofit Organizations


By Allison Gauss

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you ask the average person to name a nonprofit organization, they will probably give you the name of a big, historic charity like the Red Cross or Oxfam. Although name recognition can be a big asset for marketing and fundraising, being well-known comes with its own difficulties.

There are plenty of stereotypes and misconceptions about large nonprofit organizations, some of them quite negative. But large charities and organizations are also leading the way in many cause sectors. Here are three common misconceptions about large nonprofits and some organizations that defy these generalizations.

1. All Large Nonprofits Are Design Dinosaurs

Nonprofits in general often hesitate to invest in appearances. Resources are tight and there is ample pressure to channel all revenue to existing programs. This leads many of us to think that charity organizations of all sizes are slow to adapt in their design and technology.

Of course, when your brand, name, and logo are known by millions, change should be approached with caution. But that doesn’t mean large or historic organizations can’t keep up with design best practices.

design for large organizations

Heifer International has been helping people enmeshed in poverty since 1944. By giving livestock and other resources to families, they help communities lift themselves up through a network effect. While livestock may seem like an old school solution, Heifer International’s online presence is anything but.

Heifer International blog design

Their website and blog have a clean, modern look with large, high-quality pictures. Consistent colors and fonts mark each page with Heifer’s style. When an organization knows and prioritizes their brand, they can maintain that identity while adapting to design best practices.

2. They All Depend on Outdated Fundraising Practices

Nonprofit development strategies have changed a lot in recent decades. Whereas online giving wasn’t even an option when many of the world’s largest, most well-known nonprofits began, today it’s a necessity.

BCRF donation form example

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) has been funding life-saving research for more than 20 years. In fact, they’ve raised more than half a billion dollars for their streamlined grant program. And over the years, their fundraising has adapted to meet donors where they are.

BCRF donation form

Using Classy’s customizable donation pages, BCRF can share patient stories and give supporters a seamless experience from beginning to end.

City of Hope is another large health-related organization that is leading the way in online fundraising. Their Our Hope program lets supporters create their own personal fundraising campaigns, where they can tell their own stories as related to the cause.

City of Hope fundraising site

Our Hope even allows supporters to fundraise for a a specific illness that City of Hope works on. For people affected by lymphoma or diabetes, this makes fundraising for City of Hope an even more meaningful experience.

City of Hope Website

Peer-to-peer fundraising has exploded in popularity over the past few years and smart organizations of all sizes are giving people this option.

3. They Aren’t Making Progress

Large nonprofit organizations are working on some of the world’s toughest and most ingrained problems. When an organization has been fighting for a cause for years, it can be easy to miss the victories along the way. This is partially an issue of communication and PR—because incremental victories don’t always make the flashiest headlines.

While it would be wonderful to see the headline “Researchers Find a Cure for ALS,” most often success looks like this.

large organizations breakthrough headline

This breakthrough, funded in part by the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, identified a gene mutation that contributes to the disease. Since scientists still don’t entirely understand what causes ALS, this finding is worth celebrating. With a specific gene to target, researchers can learn more and develop treatments. For problems like hunger, poverty, and disease, progress comes day by day, not necessarily in leaps and bounds.

Nonprofit professionals are constantly fighting misconceptions about their cause, their work, and their efficacy. In part, the problem stems from the public’s lack of familiarity with the realities of the social sector.

Turning the tide against this problem is a big challenge, but more and more organizations are seeing the value in communicating their work, their impact, and their humanity to the public. Nonprofits of all sizes must lean into the conviction that their work makes a difference, that their team members are valuable, and their donors want to be informed. Smart organizations should incorporate design best practices and modern online fundraising strategies to stay relevant and effective.

The Nonprofit Growth Guide

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