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In the Nonprofit World, You Get What You Pay For

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

You Get What You Pay For

It’s hard to believe we’re now in 2022! In addition to all of our feverish hoping that this year is different from the last two, it’s a good time to take stock of our organizations, our strategies, and all the things we can improve in the year to come.

Something that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in our sector is how we interact with vendors. In organizations with limited staffing and overstretched teams, it’s inevitable that some services have to be outsourced. There’s just no way our lean teams can be nimble enough to do everything they need to do.

That said, there’s a temptation to do everything possible to cut costs when outsourcing. Budgets are tight, so finding a way to do things with little or no cost is ideal. That’s great in theory, but in practice, it presents some challenges.

Consider the case of St. Francois County, Missouri.

This sparsely-populated area a few hours from my home in Suburban St. Louis has been in the news lately for its new County Seal. Let’s just say it’s…unique.

Consider the case of St. Francois County, Missouri.

After social media discovered the logo and made it go viral, the county’s presiding commissioner explained that the seal “was a rush deal way back when. I had two days to come up with a seal and my design of the seal is proof positive that I am not artistically inclined. I am artistically declined.” He continued to say that the county did not want to spend any money on design fees for the new seal.

Quite literally, the county got what it paid for.

This is a lesson every nonprofit should consider when trying to outsource an important task without spending any money. The county avoided a financial expense, but now has to deal with bad publicity and the need to once again redesign the seal. Sometimes, an initial investment is the best defense against larger costs down the road.

Publicity, public perception, and marketing ability are vital to our ability to successfully carry out our mission. They are hard to quantify and give a price tag, but we all know when they’ve taken a hit. Not making the proper investment in any area can lead to considerable harm in the public eye, and it’s crucial to incorporate that when choosing a vendor.

Here are some tips to consider when outsourcing and weighing the costs of a project:

Set a Realistic Budget: If you have a close contact or board member who is willing to do a project on a pro bono basis, that can be a major boost. Without that, understand what you can realistically spend and what the going rate is for a service. If you can’t afford to make the full investment in a project, consider ways to either break up the work or delay it until the budget allows for you to hire the right person.

Know Who You’re Hiring: Make sure you spend time getting to know a vendor, understanding the process behind their work, and assessing their ability to support your mission. Your vendors will be deeply connected to your mission for a period of time, so make sure you feel confident in them before signing a contract.

Manage Expectations: Clearly define what a finished product looks like, where you need help, and what the timeline looks like for deliverables. Make sure any project has a period for review, editing, and revision. Financial investments in outside vendors can be daunting, so make sure the process leads to a finished product that fits your needs.

Outsourcing work can be intimidating, but it’s a necessary process for nonprofits that don’t have the luxury of having large staffs. Make sure to define a process, get to know who you’re hiring, and create accountability. That way, you can get what you need without catching bad publicity along the way.

Need help setting a strategic direction in the new year? Need to design a new county seal? Our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants and artistic talent at Team Kat & Mouse are here to help!

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