Strengthening Non-Profit Organizations through Relationships and a Business Mindset

Non-profit organizations are the heartbeat of our communities. Whether they work with at-risk children, low-income communities, or abandoned animals, they are led by passionate and compassionate individuals who make a positive difference in the lives of so many people. 

But, too often, non-profit organizations face staff or donor burnout and struggle to keep the lights on through challenging times. The COVID19 pandemic was one season in which many non-profits lost a portion of their regular donations and struggled to maintain their operations. 

But what if there was another way? What would it look like for non-profits to function as an efficient, streamlined, and profit-driven business? What if they could grow their donor base and turn profit into even more good work for the community?

It’s possible. And it starts with a mindset shift: non-profits are a business and need to start acting like one. Let’s explore some strategies for non-profits to make this shift today.

Problems Facing Non-Profits Today

There’s no doubt that leaders, board members, staff, and volunteers at non-profits are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do. Many accept low wages or work for free just because they care about the cause! 

But while they are leaders in their specific area, they are not necessarily business professionals or know how to best lead and grow an organization. 

It comes back to a mistaken belief that “profit” is a bad word. Instead of seeing profit as fuel for doing more good work, a lot of organizations view it negatively. And this prevents them from operating like the business they are! If non-profit organizations took on an entrepreneurial and growth-oriented mindset, they’d be motivated to streamline processes, create structure, and improve operations to maximize money coming in, knowing that it will just go back out to support the community. 

Other problems facing non-profits today include:

  • Survival mindset: Many organizations believe that they should just make do with what they are blessed to get, even if it just keeps the lights on. But there is so much more potential here! Sustained growth for increased operations is possible. 
  • Donor and volunteer fatigue: When non-profits continually call on the same people to support, fatigue sets in and disrupts their operational goals. 
  • Vulnerable to economic changes: COVID19 showed that many non-profits did not have sustainable and adaptable models to get them through economic shocks to their donor base. Those that were able to pivot and think creatively were better able to survive the difficult season. 

Each unique non-profit organization will have their own struggles to work through. But these are common to many, and all share a singular root cause: operating a non-profit as if it were not a business. 

Mindset Shift: Non-Profits as a Business

For non-profits to operate under their full potential, they need to see themselves as a business. Once that becomes part of their identity, they can get serious about changing the things that need to be changed. 

Non-profit-as-a-business mindset will allow leaders to make significant and impactful changes. Some areas of growth include:

  • Growing the donor base, or moving beyond a donation-only model, to grow funds and prevent donor fatigue. 
  • Executive coaching for leaders and C-suite executives. 
  • Board training and governance best practices. 
  • Implementing strategic plans.
  • Connect with for-profit companies through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives. 

These are just some areas of change for non-profit organizations. By committing to change and growth, non-profits can start to operate in an efficient, streamlined manner which maximizes their potential. 

Next Steps for Non-Profit Leaders

Leaders of non-profit organizations already know when something is wrong. There may be obvious problems, like bleeding funds or a shrinking volunteer base, or a more subtle sense that something’s just not quite right. For these leaders, looking at their non-profit as a business might just be the shift that they need.

But where to go from here? How can non-profit leaders and managers start to make the necessary shift? 

It starts with honesty—recognize and acknowledge that there are very real pain points and frustrations. From there, leaders need to:

  • Talk with the board, staff, or other key players in their organization. Come to a mutual consensus that it’s time for a change. 
  • Be open-minded to new ideas and change. 
  • Get rid of any blaming or victim mindset. Instead, recognize that the team controls both the current problems and future change. 
  • Commit to the process of change from strategic planning to implementation. 

When the entire organization is ready to be honest, open, and committed to change, they can begin to implement necessary steps to improve.

Lead Through Relationships

Along with the many structural or operational changes a non-profit may need to go through, it’s also important to remember a simple fact: people are the most important part of your organization. 

And this is more than just a philosophical idea—it’s a practical necessity for non-profits. People are the heart and soul of each organization, from volunteers to board members to donors. And non-profits need to remember that relationship management is the single-most important thing they can do to sustain their operations. 

Gala events and episodic fundraising doesn’t work anymore. Neither does chasing people who are not interested in what the non-profit is doing. Instead, consistent and authentic relationship-building should be front and center of any fundraising activities. 

Non-profits are businesses. And while their “widgets” look a little different, they are important and impactful to the community! If non-profits can switch their mindset and embrace an entrepreneurial, growth-oriented one, they will be able to expand their good works. 

And the good news is that the community is ready for this change! Donations from individuals is on the rise, and the younger generations care deeply about community, equality, and CSR. They’re ready to align with organizations doing meaningful work. 

But for all this to be effective, non-profits need to be open to change, relationship-oriented, and fiercely committed to growth. And if they do this? Well, we’ll start seeing even more of the good work they’re doing to transform our communities for the better.