when a small budget becomes a blessing


Despite how much passion nonprofit employees can bring to the table, it isn’t always easy finding solutions to make the seemingly impossible happen. When budgets are smaller than we’d like, we can feel the pressure to come up with ways to stretch a dollar. Whether it’s a motivating boss, amazing coworkers, a superhuman long-term donor you keep bumping into, or just the beautiful faces of those you are working to serve that drive your desire to make a big impact — the pressure can get real, real quick.

How are we going to get that appeal out the door without a printing budget? How am I supposed to deck out the venue for our 25th anniversary fundraiser if I don’t have dedicated décor dollars? Oh, and I can’t get a budget line for a new staffer and now feel like I’m swimming in the day-to-day…

Understandably, these types of thoughts can hold us up from working on the more important cause work we are set out to do.

Having more dollars would certainly make it easier to secure top-of-the-line vendors, venues, staffers, branded collateral, or décor. But I believe that smaller budgets make us think outside the box, encouraging and fostering some of the most invaluable skill sets for our industry.

Here are just a couple of those skills, with real-world examples of how they can apply to your nonprofit marketing:

Collaboration: Asking community partners, friends, and neighbors to support your efforts.

  • Think: Building relationships with schools to develop internship or co-opportunities with your organization. Or, asking to bring in an expert consultant for a project or two (bringing the expertise without breaking the bank like hiring an employee can). This can help prove the need for headcount and be a temporary solution before you get the budget for additional headcount.

  • Think: Building relationships with community partners so you can ask for sponsorships, yes, but also so you can ask for “stuff” for free — like plants and trees that can serve as decorative accents for your next event, or paint and supplies to make a “yellow-brick-road” that serves as directional signage when you just don’t have a printing budget.

Creativity: Finding ways to make something spectacular without spending a fortune.

  • Think: Creating a committee to handmake décor, which can be a great way to put volunteers to work for a big payoff. Add Pinterest and a little lead time and you’ve got yourself a decorated silent auction room for your next event, or centerpieces, or a step and repeat.

  • Think: Printer relationships can go a long way. If you have printing throughout the year, giving a significant amount of work to one partner may pay off in the end with a printing donation for your next campaign. An extra perk besides getting it for free: you can add “printing generously donated by…” to make your printer very happy, AND help with the perception of coming off too “fancy” to be nonprofit.

Shooting for the stars on a shoestring budget shouldn’t intimidate you. It should inspire you! Looking for someone to bounce ideas off of? Let’s collaborate! We always welcome the opportunity to talk with regional nonprofits about ways to advance their missions and improve our shared communities.