5 Tips for Nonprofit Business Builders
KARL R. LAPAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE NIIC
Who said innovation and entrepreneurship practices only apply to for-profit businesses? In my experience, some of the most creative and innovative people I know work and lead in the non-profit sector. Someone once told me nonprofit is a tax status not a business model. The NIIC’s Affiliate side by side coaching program is available to any interested and motivated individual or organization. Nonprofits, while they sometimes operate differently “under the hood” than a traditional business, they can still benefit from the following success practices. Here are five things I believe non-profit business builders need to keep at the forefront of their thinking:
Keep the mission relevant and fresh.
A mission statement can serve any business, but for a nonprofit, it’s especially critical, as it serves as a guiding principle of why the organization exists. It needs to be robust and concise at the same time, demonstrating the passion and call to action for your cause. From here, it’s a matter of finding ways to consistently remind your staff, volunteers, clients, and stakeholders by ensuring strategic priorities and deliverables are connected and aligned it it. It is also important to regularly “test” and “refresh” the mission to determine if any changes or enhancements needs to be made. This is not mission drift but mission smart to do so.
- Be transparent.
Donors and partners want to know how their money is being used. What are the outcomes and how do you measure them? Social media, newsletters, annual reports, and speaking engagements are ways to share progress and needs at the same time. Above all, it’s essential to cultivate a culture of transparency within your organization. To that end, some organizations choose to make public its 990s, financial statements and other organizational documents (articles of incorporation, tax determination letter, or bylaws) on their website, in-person in their office or on reporting sites like GuideStar. The NIIC has achieved the highest level of transparency (platinum) awarded by GuideStar. This honor is reserved for a very small percent of committed and disciplined nonprofits.
Be gracious—don’t discount emotional connection
Volunteers are the lifeblood of all nonprofits, especially those with limited staff and resources. It is essential to show gratitude for your volunteers with recognition and perks as you would for an employee. For example, mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana have access to discounts at a variety of local food and entertainment destinations to make outings more affordable. Don’t discount the need for volunteers to feel connected and have memorable experiences with your organizations to stay engaged. Hospitality is an important hallmark of effective and engagement with one of your most valuable talent pools – volunteers.
Flex your “no” muscle regularly.
Nonprofits are often presented with ideas that sound great on the surface, but participation can mean a strain on limited resources or deviation from the organization’s core competencies. At times, nonprofits are coerced or strongly guided to do things a community leader, board member or funder push them toward, even if it doesn’t make sense to them. Nonprofit leaders must learn when to politely decline these invitations when the numbers or the approach doesn’t add up. This is often very difficult because nonprofit organizations don’t like to disappoint their stakeholders yet, saying yes can result in an unfunded mandate and cause undue stress in the organization.
Intentionally build your innovative capacity & capability.
Many nonprofits are extremely adept at pivoting their business model, finding new revenue sources and consistently measuring their client impact. By focusing on their core purpose, nonprofits can often deliver exceptional services that meets or exceeds their customer’s needs. However, having a solid innovation pipeline is as important to the sustainability of a quality nonprofit organization as a good fund development plan.
Nonprofits need to embrace innovation practices to strengthen their business model, continuously improve their programs and services, and retain talented team members. Research has shown that employees who bring their creative gifts out at work are more likely to have higher organizational engagement than those that don’t. I often ask organizations, how many ideas are in their innovation pipeline and how long have they been there? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it? Innovation is critical to long-term success and sustainability of the non-profit sector. How is your non-profit building and sustaining its innovative pipeline and evolving its culture around innovation?
The NIIC can be a resource to help nonprofit leaders looking to take their organizations to the next level through our side by side affiliate program. We offer business coaching backed by a quality network of mentors and trusted advisors to the businesses (both non-profits and for-profits) we help grow. Affiliate programs at The NIIC are flexible and available at your convenience, at every phase of your venture. The length and frequency is entirely up to you.
It’s easy to get started. Call one of our concierges for an appointment at 260-407-6442.