Tis’ the season for annual appeal letters flooding your inbox. When you open those letters and find nonprofit organizations that you feel connected to, consider helping fund their operations. Since 2015, Camden National Bank has given nearly $650,000 in unrestricted funds to over 50 homeless shelters to help those without a home find the services and support they need. Why did we make these funds unrestricted? It’s simple: we have significant trust in an Executive Director’s ability to deploy the funds, as they see fit. Whether it’s to purchase new beds, fund a salary or create a unique program, we’re confident they will use the funds to better their organization and ultimately help those they serve. They are the experts and leaders in their sector and we’re committed to helping our communities.

We also believe in an organization’s ability to recruit and retain highly respected Board of Directors whose responsibility is to govern their mission and plan for the future. An Executive Director’s time is best used operating, administrating, and creatively serving the community, and not using their valuable time to meet with us corporate citizens. We don’t want to “add to staff” – we know they are encumbered with limited human capital.

As an active board member of the Maine Women’s Fund, I can appreciate the challenge nonprofits have faced during the coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofits need to be flexible and adaptable, as they respond quickly to new needs and obstacles, with an uncertain future. I also recognize the time intensity to focus on the mission, while not spending too much funding on administrative costs and too little on programs that fulfill missions.

Strategies for nonprofits

I highly encourage more nonprofit organizations to ask for unrestricted donations using these strategies:

  • Be transparent. Prove to donors, both individual and corporate, that you’ll use their money wisely through documented achievements.
  • Communicate. Consider ongoing communication through email or other media channels to actively and consistently highlight successes and fund uses.
  • Number sense. Present your healthy service expense ratio (the same one that is publicly reported on Form 990), to demonstrate funds are used for the mission, rather than administration.
  • Promote. Highlight unrestricted corporate donors in your newsletters. Give those donors an extra plug and maybe others will allocate their donations, accordingly. Every corporation likes to see their logo in print… just don’t make logo soup!

Nonprofits need us to give without expecting so much in return. If you want to help, join a committee or volunteer to be a board member to provide in depth knowledge of your area of expertise. Ultimately, you need to trust the nonprofit executive director to steward your funds appropriately. If the organization is transparent and communicates often, you will be amazed at how valuable your donation can be to their goals.

Renée Smyth is the Executive Vice President and Chief Experience and Marketing Officer at Camden National Bank. She chairs their Donation Committee and is President of The Bank of Maine Foundation. She is also Secretary of The Maine Women’s Fund Board of Directors and volunteers her time and energy with numerous nonprofit organizations.