Times are lean but even when they aren't, in the non-profit world 'free' is the gold standard.  Free trumps everything.  But free has a price tag.  Ever heard the phrase, "as free as kittens"?  Earlier this summer I blogged about the cost of being cheap. Here's what's can be even more expensive:  free. If your office space is free but you have no parking for clients or donors and your staff are crammed in one room where they have to wear ear mufflers to hear themselves think, is your space really free?  Not when you calculate your lost productivity, lost revenue from would be clients or would be donors who can't engage in your services or in supporting your mission.  How about that "volunteer webmaster" that is supposed to be building your new site or managing your existing one but hasn't responded to your emails or calls for the past 6 months?  How much is it costing you to unsuccessfully track them down and hobble along with a subpar online presence with dated information, graphics and content that doesn't engage your constituents?  Now add to the cost of your time  what you could be raising if you had a top notch site that did engage your visitors with compelling opportunities to give.  Who knew cheap could be so pricey?  Let's talk about that social media intern who is supposedly building your Facebook page, tweeting for you and setting up your blog?  Really?  Would you hand that intern over the mic at your annual gala in font of hundreds of your key stakeholders?  Because you might as well be.  Are they qualified to serve as the spokesperson for your agency?    What would it cost you if they weren't?  In a word: everything.

Every non-profit is stretched thin.  So, how can you not break?   Here are three things you can't afford to be "free":

1) Your technology

Your database shouldn't be managed by anyone but you.  Whether its a donor database or software tools you need, you can afford a reliable, cost effective solution and these solutions are all around you.  With so many affordable solutions, there's no excuse for not investing in your infrastructure.

2) Your brand

You get what you pay for, plain and simple.  Brands don't come free.  if you need a new identify system, shop around.  You may find many generous vendors who will donate a portion of their services but PAY SOMETHING because when you pay nothing you often get one opinion and your identity is too important to take the first logo you get.

3) Your social media

Social media is one of the only things that is free but it is a time investment.  There are plenty of examples of non-profits and companies who do  this right and do this well.  follow them to learn!  Don't delegate this to someone on the fringe of your agency, your messaging is too important for that.

Everyone is stretched thin but by prioritizing and spending your dollars wisely, you'll stay ahead of the curve and ensure that you take your agency to the next level.

Stay classy,