Sustainability Matters for Your Nonprofit: Here’s Why

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By Wayne Elsey

Nonprofits have a special status in our society. Because they’re tax-exempt organizations and working in the public’s service, it’s vital that they operate with complete transparency and lean into social good. As the U.S. opens up for business again and our lives return to “normal,” one of the biggest takeaways from the pandemic is we have to sustain.

During the pandemic, many things in our lives changed. Global travel by car, rail and planes decreased significantly. As a result, emissions dropped by 7% worldwide. Of course, who could forget the images of animals wandering into cities and towns because humans temporarily withdrew indoors?

Moving Into the Circular Economy

At our social enterprise, our team focuses on sharing the best value for nonprofits and helping inform marketers and fundraisers how to maximize performance. As a social entrepreneur, I also think that one of the messages I want to impart is the necessity of nonprofit leaders taking up the sustainability mantle and joining the circular economy.

As we know, climate change is an existential threat to human and animal life on our planet. Because of it, corporations have shifted to going green. And that’s something that’s also happening in homes and small businesses. The reality is that the writing is on the wall, and even companies that produce oil and gas are moving toward sustainability and the circular economy.

The Circular Economy, Sustainability and Nonprofits

The circular economy has an audacious goal. In short, it seeks the elimination of waste and pushes for everyone to extend the life of resources. For instance, one of the most significant contributors to waste is the public. For example, many don’t know that disposing of shoes and clothing has to happen responsibly.

A single pair of shoes or sneakers could take hundreds of years to disintegrate depending on the materials used. Buying just to buy is no longer an option, and the public understands our need to focus on sustainability. That’s why in the last year or so, there’s been a lot more activity about repurposing shoes and clothing, riding electric vehicles with a smaller carbon footprint and doing more for recycling.

Nonprofit leaders have to join the circular economy movement. It’s imperative. As the world and your donors move toward increased awareness and action around sustainability, they know that everyone has to get involved. So, that means how you operate and what you do matters, and you have the chance to lead in these efforts in your community, thereby raising your visibility.

Protecting Your Brand Is Vital

As every nonprofit executive and marketer understands it’s vital to protect your brand. In other words, you want to make sure that the public and your champions see that you’re a good nonprofit citizen in your community. In the age of social media and when calling out and canceling are at the tips of peoples’ fingers, you have to make it a point to do the work. You could make a mistake, but you have to make an effort.

For your nonprofit, that means ensuring you do everything to go green within your office environment, in your programs and in your interactions within your community. For instance, in the age of Zoom, national nonprofits should consider whether they need their executives flying across the country for meetings.

How many nonprofits still print things? Printing content, such as invitations, when they could get sent digitally is another consideration for all nonprofits. How about the lunches that your team gets? Is there any way you could promote biodegradable containers? These things help us all move forward in the circular economy, eliminating waste and extending the life of what we produce.

Becoming a Nonprofit Sustainability Leader

If you want to become or remain a leader in your community, you have to participate in the circular economy. It doesn’t matter what your mission is in the community. No matter your work, the brand visibility will increase because you’re demonstrating greater social responsibility.

The following are a few quick tips to get your nonprofit started in the circular economy and sustainability.

  1. Vision. Every nonprofit leader has to set the vision for sustainability within their organization. That means everyone has to buy into becoming sustainable in everything they do.
  2. Goals. Set goals for your entire nonprofit to achieve. For example, make one of your goals to become 50% more sustainable and green within a year and 100% within two years. Then set sustainability goals in all functional areas.
  3. Objectives. Once you have your goals, you want to get the tactics down. Objectives could be that you’ll have more remote working or that your events (including board meetings) will ensure sustainability.
  4. Inform. For your sustainability efforts to succeed, you have to educate and inform everyone. It includes your team, the people you serve and your donors. Articulate why it’s essential to become a sustainable nonprofit business.
  5. Measure. Finally, to know if you’re achieving your goals, you have to measure. It’s not going to be easy. So, get creative. For example, poll your donors about your sustainability messaging. Count up all areas in need of green changes, and develop metrics around those items needing change.

In sum, the world is involved in a massive effort to save our planet, and every person, household, business and nonprofit plays a part. Set out to become the nonprofit leader in sustainability in your community. By doing so, you’ll make sure that your supporters and others know that you mean business in social responsibility.

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