7 Things Nonprofits Should Focus on in 2012

Photo by Tiberiu Ana

January is all about new beginnings. People make resolutions to lose weight, to find a new job or to meet that special someone. For nonprofits, January should also be about beginnings. The start of new ideas, fresh approaches and confident steps to build a better organization and accomplish your mission.

Having worked in the nonprofit world for many years, I know only too well how easy it is to follow a path instead of making one and end the year not a whit more wise. That’s why I’ve given you just seven new things to focus on for next year. You may not get to all of them, but if you can brag next December you did three or four, you’ll be far ahead of those that abandoned their resolutions too soon and now have to play catch up.


According to a Nielson study late last year, over 60 percent of 25 to 35 year olds own smartphones. And among those 18-24 and 35-44 years smartphone owners hover near 54 percent. Want to make a bet you can’t lose? Smartphone purchases and use will grow dramatically in 2012. Even smartphone use among 55 to 64 year olds is at 30 percent, up 5% in just one quarter. With adoptions rates growing and mobile donations only months–not years away–nonprofits should be viewing everything they do (e.g. communications, outreach, fundraising, marketing, activism) as it will be seen on the third screen.

Voice Recognition

Voice recognitions tools such as Apple’s Siri are changing the way people are discovering and learning about causes and nonprofits. If I ask Siri to find a place to donate food it will bring up the food bank closest to me, which may not be the one that tops the search results on Google. The emphasis on local in voice recognition represents a huge opportunity for local nonprofits to be found and supported. But you still need to be found and, for now, that means optimizing your content for Google, Bing and Yahoo. That leads to my next point…


ZMOT is courtesy of Google, which came out with a free ebook last year on the Zero Moment of Truth, or how consumers make buying decisions based on digital content. The concept is simple. The Internet has added a layer of content (e.g. reviews, articles, forums etc.) that people consult before they act. When users search for your cause (e.g. clean water) or nonprofit (e.g. Water.org) on Google, do they find you or something else? More nonprofits should and will find out the answer to this question in 2012.

QR Codes

QR codes are everywhere! I think they’re so great I’m writing the portable edition of QR Codes for Dummies for Wiley Publishing. These offline hyperlinks are showing up on resumes, billboards, brochures, packaged goods, even people. They’ll be replaced with something else soon enough (hint: pass on the QR code tattoo), but right now they’re the tool of choice to link the offline world to online content, a practice that’s not going away. Nonprofits should use QR codes liberally to educate, inform, inspire and activate.

Small Gifts

It’s a brutal economy and major gifts just aren’t what they used to be. I’m a big believer that the future will be small–as in small gifts of anything from a penny to a few dollars. This money can really add up, but how do you tap the masses to get it? Cause marketing is one way. Simple point-of-sale campaigns such as coin canisters or pinups that have cashiers asking shoppers for a buck at checkout can raise anywhere from several thousand to several million, depending on how many busy stores you have involved. If you’re looking for a digital option and have a well trafficked Facebook page, try a Facebook Like promotion with a corporate partner that rewards “likes” with a small donation. You’ll raise money and add new fans to your Facebook page.

Brand Building

Mobile, voice recognition, ZMOT, QR Codes and small gifts are just tools. They’re like the fork and knife for Sunday dinner: they’re good for eating, but they’re not the meal. The juicy, mouth-watering goal is a wonderful brand that will have people asking for more. There’s a great book that can help: Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding. Written by four women, including the “Mother of Cause Marketing,” Carol Cone, they look at nonprofits–big and small–that have transformed their brands to better accomplish their missions. Brand building is on my list every year.

Going for the Gold

With the Olympics coming to London this summer, the 2012 games will be trending en masse and social media for months. Fueling the rise will be Olympians who finally have the okay from the Olympic Committee to Facebook, Tweet, and blog during the games. The United States alone sent over 600 athletes to the Olympics in 2008. Now is the time to explore local athletes and future Olympians in your area who might be willing to carry your flag this year. If you’re an organization, that embodies the Olympic ideal of Faster, Higher, Stronger, this is your year to go for the gold!

For example, my friend Kevin Montford, the executive director of America for Gold, a nonprofit that funds American Olympians who need financial support, has big plans for 2012. He realizes this is his year!

With a sputtering economy and weak donor confidence, 2012 is not the year to get too heady about your prospects and ignore what’s worked year after year. Think progressively, but proceed with caution. 2012 is also the centennial of the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable Titanic.