Survival of the Fittest in the Nonprofit World

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In the past decade, the number of U.S. nonprofit organizations has increased 25% to more than 1.5 million. However, despite that growing number, most don't succeed. According to CharityNetUSA , money, bad fundraising tactics, and a lack of thanks to their donors most often bring down nonprofits. But for nearly two decades, Washington, D.C.'s Young Women's Project has survived, thrived, and saved lives. Here's what other nonprofits can learn from its success.

The life of the Young Women's Project
Since its founding in 1992, the Young Women's Project has grown to support a full-time staff of seven and a $450,000 budget. YWP works mainly with women and girls who lack economic stability and family support. Most of the women in the program are part of the Child and Family Services Agency, or CFSA, and are foster children. They work to "transform the D.C. foster care system so that it is meeting positive youth development outcomes."

Two years ago, a group of teens testified before the District's Committee on Human Services regarding how CFSA handles "aging out" -- when a foster child reaches age 21 and is kicked out of the system.


Another group, entitled Peer Health and Sexuality Education, or PHASE, helps to educate young women about sexual health. It was such a great program that it has been adopted into several D.C. public schools as a 0.5-credit class.

Despite its small staff, and the large number of lives that it's trying to impact, YWP has still managed to avoid the major pitfalls of the nonprofit world. Here's how.

The first pitfall: Money
Many nonprofits put all of their trust in the government for funding. However, that can sometimes fail them; many groups lost their funding due to cutbacks in 2008. Also, most do not know how to organize their money. The Young Women's Project keeps strict money records, and sets aside funds for a rainy day.

The second pitfall: Bad fundraising
Many nonprofits lack the fundraising skills they need to survive. Many feel that only large donors are important. The Young Women's Project realizes that small donations can add up very quickly. It pursues fundraising plans that work specifically for YWP's business, while also applying for grants based on its mission statement.

The third pitfall: Forgetting to thank donors
A simple courtesy like saying "thank you" can go a long way. However, most nonprofits forget to thank their donors. When donors feel appreciated, they're more likely to maintain a relationship with an organization. The YWP sends annual thank-you cards, and even throws parties for donors.

Why do I care about YWP's tactics for success? Well, I plan to own a nonprofit organization for battered women one day. I hope that just like the Young Women's Project, my business will be successful and prosperous.

The next time you're thinking about making your own lemonade stand -- or hey, even a nonprofit -- remember to have a nice sum of money, raise money in smart ways, and most important, thank your donors.

At the time this article was published Amber Dixon won The Motley Fool's first-ever Thurgood Marshall Academy Scholarship. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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