6 Things Economic Developers Can Learn from Nonprofit Organizations

Rachel Selsky, Senior Economic Development Specialist at Camoin Associates, has been working in the field of economic development for the last six years. While serving on the board of a local youth services organization, she “noticed a number of ways that working with a nonprofit organization can inform economic development efforts.” She shared her insights in a recent article, and we’re excited to share those points with you here.

As a company that works with a wide variety of organizations from throughout the nonprofit sector, Convergent can testify to the fact that there is much economic developers and other, more philanthropically focused nonprofit leaders can learn from each other, especially when it comes to their fundraising efforts, which is why we’ve added a few of our own insights to the end of Rachel’s list.

In her article, Rachel points out that economic developers can learn a lot from other nonprofit organizations about the way in which they approach:

  • Involving Young People: Many economic development planning processes do not do enough to involve young people in the brainstorming, decision making, or implementation process. By inviting young people to participate in the process, there will be an infusion of new ideas, new points of view, and new energy to get work done.
  • Partnering with Other Nonprofits: Many nonprofits are doing really incredible work towards many of the goals being pursued through a planning process. For example, Youth Services manages the local Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) which provides career mentoring to at-risk youth through an after-school program that includes assistance with resume writing, one-on-one mentoring programs, site visits to local employers, presentations from professionals, and general soft skill development. The RAMP program focuses on STEM careers and hopes to help high school students move towards successful careers. This type of workforce development and youth engagement is just what is called for in many economic development plans.
  • Share Resources: By using the planning process to support partnerships and collaborations, it is possible to share what resources do exist and work towards shared successes. Nonprofit organizations are facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to finding resources for the work they are doing and by finding common ground with other agencies and organizations there could be new opportunities that develop.
  • Consider Basic Welfare Needs as Requirement for Economic Development: In many cases, there are basic health, safety, and welfare issues that are standing in the way of people achieving their potential. Planning processes should consider welfare issues or else risk missing an entire segment of the population.
  • Asking For Help: One of the first things you learn when talking about fundraising for nonprofits is that the hardest part is taking the first step and asking. People want to be involved in their community and help in any way that they can, they just need to be asked. During planning processes we can often get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in order to move towards the goals and vision, but asking people to get involved and work within their networks may be just what is needed to have success in economic development.

In addition to “Asking for Help,” Convergent would like to add that economic developers could learn a lot from other, more philanthropically focused nonprofits when it comes to:

  • Investor Relations: Maintaining strong relationships with their funders is something that most successful nonprofits have developed in to an art. They have positions dedicated solely to this purpose, and maintain detailed databases on their investor’s communication preferences. Over the years, educating our economic development clients on the art of investor relations has become just as important as the actual fundraising process. As hard as you as an economic developer may be working to reach the goals of your organization and community, if you aren’t taking the time to meet with and communicate your efforts, successes, and challenges to your investors, you’re putting yourself in the position of having to fight an uphill battle when it comes time to ask for that next round of funding.

On the flip-side, many nonprofit organizations can learn an important fundraising lesson from economic developers in regards to:

  • Defining Outcomes: In economic development, whether you are focused on helping to increase local jobs, companies, or capital investment, you are able to identify clear outcomes of your efforts and communicate them to investors. Most importantly, since economic developers work with business professionals every day, they have a clear understanding of the outcomes that their investors will value most and therefore fund. Other nonprofit organizations are beginning to learn the importance of identifying and communicating their outcomes, and it’s a skill that is critical to successfully funding initiatives.