Dreams, grand visions, and lofty ideals are ubiquitous in the nonprofit sector. So many of the organizations that make up our professional sphere have cast off with every intent of bringing about meaningful change, filling in the gaps of unmet social needs, and pursuing the ever-elusive notion of positive impact. And while such motivations are undoubtedly good, when it comes right down to it, what many organizations often lack is the ability to shift their gaze from an ideal future to the broken present and define the practical next step forward.
With that in mind, what follows are three growth mentalities that nonprofit leaders can easily adopt in order to pave the way toward a brighter future:
1. Mission Investment
While a thrifty, make-do-with-what-we-have mentality certainly has its merits, the troubling reality is that many nonprofits struggle to move beyond it. As a result, in order to minimize present costs they often forego the use of tools and strategic resources that would help them fulfill their missions.
Think about it. When the primary operational goal of a nonprofit organization is cost minimization, what does this goal communicate to the world about the organization’s commitment to its mission?
What we in the sector so often forget is that the tools necessary for long-term success and sustainability–e.g., a competent development team, the right fundraising software, effective advertising, an engaged board, etc.t–are not costs, but investments. And with these investments come returns!
As Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable has said, “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”
All this is to say, saving money for the sake of minimizing overhead is a, if not the, key inhibitor of growth and mission fulfillment. If we truly desire to change the world, leaning into areas where we can afford to take a few calculated risks is the perfect place to start. Chances are this approach will pay dividends in the future!
2. Mission Understanding
If passion is the fuel of the nonprofit sector then understanding is almost certainly the vehicle it should power. While it may sound painfully obvious, nothing pairs better with the passion we have for our respective missions than the cultivation of an expert understanding of that which our missions serve and the ability to define the practical steps toward mission fulfillment.
Translating passion into direction is the essence of strategy, and is no small task insofar as it requires us to dig into the nature of the needs we wish to address, articulate our theory of change, and determine the path forward. With this in mind, no organization is too young or too small to have a strategic plan in place.
With the why of your mission defined, take some time with your staff and board to articulate the how. While this strategic-planning process is far from simplistic, there are few tools that communicate a robust understanding of your mission and a strong case for support like a well-articulated strategic plan.
3. Mission Relationship
The nonprofit sector is built on community.
As David L. Gies explains, “Throughout the history of the United States, individual citizens repeatedly have recognized a need or a problem, attracted others who share their concern, and built a voluntary constituency that was committed to ameliorating, solving, or eliminating it…”
The beautiful thing about your organization’s mission is that it can be shared with and adopted by others! In face, it’s your job to facilitate that process!
Success in the nonprofit sector is inextricably tied to relationship and the cultivation of a community of supporters, whether they be donor, volunteers, local leaders or otherwise. As a result, relationship-building is of the utmost importance for ongoing growth and success. To foster this kind of support, prioritizing constituent retention and engagement must be at the strategic forefront of all ongoing operations.
It’s true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but by channeling your passion and adopting these three growth mentalities, your organization will be well on its way to mission fulfillment!