Three steps beyond simply getting by

If you’re a nonprofit leader – board member, CEO, or senior staffer – who’s had it with year after year of scraping by, take heart. A study from the Bridegespan Group offers hope that “small and midsize nonprofits with ambitious aspirations for growth can find the money to fuel that growth.” As reported in a recent issue of The Nonprofit Quarterly, the “silver bullets” you’ve been seeking are these: 1) a willingness to make tough decisions and 2) intentionality.

The Bridgespan researchers zeroed in on a group of fast-growing nonprofits (organizations that had doubled their budgets between 1998 and 2008 to reach $10 million to $30 million in annual revenue), looking for the secret(s) of their success. They found that leadership within the superstar peer group made a series of thoughtful trade-offs that put their organizations on the road to financial vitality.


According to the NPQ article, for smaller nonprofits hoping to enlarge their territory while maintaining economic vitality, three types of trade-offs  are key. Leadership in fast-growing, financially stable nonprofits:

Put their eggs in fewer baskets. “Early in their growth trajectories, generally before reaching $10 million in annual revenues,  they made the decision to prioritize the cultivation of a primary type of funding aligned with their program goals, which meant de-prioritizing less-strategic funding opportunities.”

My suggestion: Ditch the golf tournament. Focus on major donor development.

Spent money to raise money. “They institutionalized the roles and practices required to raise those types of funding over time, often making tough decisions about when they needed to invest in development capabilities over program priorities.”

My suggestion: Forget the ratios. There’s no shame in a well-funded  fundraising program.

Took risks. “Many recognized that their funding strategy might need to change as their growth targets grew, and proactively evolved their funding approach over time, which often required them to accept short-term uncertainty and commit to long-term investments that might not bear immediate results.”

My suggestion: Stop worshiping at the feet of how things have always been done. Begin moving in the direction today of where you want to be tomorrow.

The NPQ article concludes: “While a nonprofit can be founded with little more than a good idea and an energetic leader, funding growth requires commitment, thoughtful planning, and the willingness to make difficult decisions. “

You can read the complete article here. For organizational leaders tired of simply getting by, it’s well worth a look.

What's your take on this topic?

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