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Five Tips for Thriving in Challenging NFP Times

25 February 2016 at 8:40 am
Richenda Vermeulen
Tough times call for smart measures, according to Richenda Vermeulen, Director of digital consultancy ntegrity, who shares how Not for Profits can not only survive, but thrive in challenging times.

Richenda Vermeulen | 25 February 2016 at 8:40 am


Five Tips for Thriving in Challenging NFP Times
25 February 2016 at 8:40 am

Tough times call for smart measures, according to Richenda Vermeulen, Director of digital consultancy ntegrity, who shares how Not for Profits can not only survive, but thrive in challenging times.

For the Australian Not For Profit sector, 2015 felt like armageddon.

In November 2015, the Community Council for Australia (CCA) warned that if charities didn’t join forces to maximise the impact to communities, they may face the risk of having to shut down all together.

Some merged – like Save the Children and Good Beginnings – and and some were forced to completely restructure, like World Vision; forced to cut back on $6.5 million worth of programs and one in seven jobs. An increasingly competitive market now sees charities not only competing with other charities for share of wallet, but also with social enterprises.

Tough times call for smart measures as teams are drastically reduced, with similar performance expectations as before. The reward for the lucky few who make it through is often double the workload, increased pressure and a stagnant environment.

In my twelve years in the NFP sector I have seen this happen time and time again. Here are my top five tips to make it through these times:

1. Build a culture that empowers
During negative times, take the bull by the horns and don’t let your team culture slide. Change is inevitable in NFPs, but so is frustration. Make your staff feel like they are making a difference by ensuring they can see the value and importance of their work. This may actually be an opportunity in disguise – a smaller team can be more agile, creative and quick to implement.

Culture starts with you: set the tone for the challenge ahead by being honest about the past, upfront about the hurdles ahead, and transparent with your goals and financials. Set targets that are realistic, but still build a sense of momentum: this will help your team feel they’re kicking goals despite reduced capacity.

2. Consider new ways to make your team’s job easier
NFPs are notorious for doing things in-house to keep costs to a “minimum”. But when a team has been decreased from 10 to three, processes are often unnecessary and need to be re-evaluated.

What tools can help your team to communicate faster, stay organised and have better visibility across projects? In my business, Slack reduced our internal emails, while tools like Google Drive and Trello help us plan and collaborate. There’s a range of collaboration tools that you might like to consider here.

3. Remember, donations come easiest from existing donors
In tough times, most marketing execs usually think first about how to bring new donors in the door. But that’s often missing the cash cow – your existing donors. These people are your brand loyals and advocates; the people who already understand why you’re important and are willing to invest in your cause. They are your prime audience when you need to grow income quickly. This is becoming easier and easier with digital marketing channels, especially with the right meaningful and relevant messages.

4. Seek strategic help when you need it – from the right people
When you’re feeling under pressure, look to people who have a strong track record in the NFP space. Finding the right agency can not only fill a gap, but potentially provide a new way of looking at the problems that need to be solved.

This is a time when new agencies might see an opportunity to swoop in with a “flashy new campaign” to save the day, but be wary: ensure that every claim of expertise is backed up by solid experience in the NFP sector. Make sure they understand donors, and have a solid understanding of what works and what doesn’t. (Hint: The fastest growing charities in the world are not growing because of great campaigns).

If they are not digital specialists, run for the hills – unless you want more donors over 60. More and more, we’re seeing the rise of a “giving gap”, where charities continue to invest in traditional fundraising, while ignoring the online experience that will mobilise young(er) donors. The longer you take to jump on the digital bandwagon, the larger this gap becomes, and you are left with a greater risk.

5. Consider how you need to change to be sustainable
Mergers and funding cuts are short term measures to save an organisation. If your NFP is struggling, you need to find new ways of upskilling staff, retaining talent, and providing services. You need a new “business as usual”.

Two years ago a change of government meant my business ntegrity lost 30 per cent of its clients overnight. We were struggling, but we developed completely new services and a new model to hire, reward, and retain staff. Not only did this save us, it is now a driving force behind our mass growth.

NFPs need to do things differently in a new environment. Continue to empower and build your team’s skills so they can thrive, look for experts who will pass on their knowledge – not keep it from you.

This is the approach my business ntegrity takes. We believe in empowerment and transformation alongside great digital strategy. Why? Because we are also a organisation that is constantly evolving to grow. In a time of so much uncertainty and immense change, we need to work together.

About the author: Richenda Vermeulen is the Director of ntegrity, a digital consultancy that helps NFPs implement innovative solutions to improve fundraising and communications. Prior to ntegrity, Vermeulen spent twelve years in the Not for Profit sector, from frontline social work to launching social media marketing at World Vision Australia and World Vision USA. She can be contacted at

Richenda Vermeulen  |  @RichendaG

Richenda Vermeulen is the founder and CEO of ntegrity, a modern fundraising agency that works with hundreds of Australian and global not for profits and for-purpose organisations.

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