5 Essential Nonprofit Growth and Sustainability Elements
This post was contributed by Wayne Elsey, founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. What do you think is one of the leading causes of suffering in the nonprofit sector? For me, I think I lot of it has to do with the fact that there are a lot of good organizations working to help society, but they have to somehow get from surviving to thriving. I think that anyone can do it. I’ve done it. I took a nonprofit and developed it from my kitchen table with only a few thousand in the bank to an organization of over $70 million in fewer than five years. When I was growing that group, and now others, I always had something in mind. I wanted to create organizations that developed to scale. I didn’t want to make a little difference. I wanted to make a significant impact. I’m sure most of you feel the same way about the work you do. One of the most important things you have to remember is that your nonprofit is a business. If you run it like a business, with measured impact, you can take it from a small organization to one that’s making a big difference in your community. In my experience, there are several more things that you have to be aware of to help you survive, and more importantly, thrive!
- Leadership Coupled with Vision To me, leadership is the most foundational element of success. Leadership and vision have to exist. For starters, a non-profit founder has to be able to articulate a concise and cogent statement of why his or her organization has to exist. He or she should be able to explain a future that may not exist, but that people will want to head toward in their work. By always being a student of leadership, which are qualities that anyone can learn if they put their mind to it, you’ll get people who will want to help you make the reality you envision happen. Leadership is essential for the management of a stable board of directors, which partners with the administration, and it’s also crucial for recruiting the best candidates to be part of the work team. Finally, when donors see real leadership and vision, they want to be part of the winning formula.
- Disruptive Adaptability Most of us recognize that disruption is now commonplace and is part of our existence. Disruption and adaptability to everything that occurs as a consequence of it are an essential ingredient for a modern nonprofit. Leaders and teams who understand the changes that are coming, particularly in business processes and technology, and can adapt to the evolution have a distinct competitive advantage. Sophisticated donors understand that philanthropy is always evolving. Among the changes occurring now is a lot more discussion of moving from the traditional philanthropic model to a social justice model to give more people opportunity and get to the cause of our intractable social issues. The leading nonprofits are the ones that keep their fingers on the pulse of the change and make the necessary modifications.
- Money as The Key Resource Leading nonprofits understand that “money” is not a dirty word and is a resource that needs to be discussed at every opportunity possible. One of the biggest mistakes that occur is that fundraisers or executive directors have what I call a “tin cup mentality.” If you are shy about what you need to run your nonprofit business well, then you’re not going to get what you require to sustain your group and, more importantly, grow and develop. Speaking of money and being comfortable with the topic has a direct impact on your bottom line. Everyone on your team, from each board member to senior management and even the receptionist has to understand what you need financially. So often a donor will call someone and ask questions about your group. If the person picking up the phone doesn’t know what you need and what you do and how all of it ties together, it could be a missed opportunity.
- Strategic Planning Having the road map to guide you toward your vision is essential for any business, including a nonprofit organization. I realize that a lot of people know and understand this, but I’ve found that many groups go through the process––including hiring outside counsel––and then the plan gets placed somewhere never to be found again. A plan should be a living document that is part of the fiber of your organization and against which you measure your work. Understanding the vision, goal, and strategies that you will use in all aspects of your organization will help you grow and develop beyond the day to day. Develop the plan and then work the plan.
- Technology Technology should be leveraged as much as possible. We’re fortunate to live in a world where disruptive technology allows organizations to hire people anywhere to provide the work you need to get done on-demand. We have technology that helps us manage social media and our digital marketing efforts. We also have the power of a good CRM database, and none of these technologies have to cost us the tens of thousands that they used to charge before all of this technological innovation and opportunities.