Non profit work is challenging. Often there are limited resources but unlimited needs. It is not unusual to have talented staff who are underpaid and overworked. Thus, the way in which the non profit does its work becomes very important. It is not necessary to settle for mediocre results because of these limitations. Rather, the adoption of a set of operating commitments can provide unusual leverage for organizations with limited resources.
Create a clear and focused mission
A clear and focused mission can save an organization from spending its time on ancillary or non mission critical things that suck its time, energy and money. If non-profits actually focused on their chosen core area and chose to eliminate non mission critical enterprises they could accomplish more and accomplish their mission far better than if distracted by peripheral things. It means that they need to learn how to say no to good things for the sake of their core mission.
Hire the very best, pay well and staff lean
Too many non-profits have too many staff because they don't pay well enough to hire the best. Yet, when you hire well you actually need fewer staff. Organizations that don't pay well end up with more staff than they would if they could hire the best. Thus it is a self defeating strategy. Hire the best, pay them fairly and then keep the staff lean. It works! This applies to both executive and support staff.
Think leverage always
The best organizations are always looking for ways to leverage their impact and results. Traditional thinking says that to do more one needs more money and more staff. Those who think leverage look for ways to do more for less. That does not mean that financial resources don't matter. They do. But those who think leverage look for new ways of accomplishing the mission which allow them to maximize their impact and minimize their need. See Looking Away from the Lamp Post for an example.
Too many non-profits use optimistic language to describe their results without carefully measuring results. Real results matter. I am not talking about anecdotal results. Those are great for illustrating one's work but not good measurements of how one is doing. The results that matter are those that directly relate to the missional focus of the organization. The more diligence one puts into measuring results accurately the better you can hone your strategies for even better results. Inadequate measurements result in inadequate results.
Use Resources for mission critical purposes
Non-profits can have an insatiable need for additional funding and can find ways to use those resources. Generous funding is not always a blessing for a non-profit. Often it results in the organization branching into non-critical or non-missional directions and moving away from its primary focus. A great question to ask is this: "If our funding were cut by one half tomorrow, what services would we keep and which would we let go of?" That will identify what is truly mission critical. Resist the temptation to move beyond your primary mission. Diffusion of focus results in a diffusion of impact.
Create an innovative environment
An ongoing challenge to all non-profits is to change strategies as the environment and needs change around them. What was a great strategy in the past may not be today but organizations often don't realize this and lag behind the times. While our mission remains the same, our tactics need to change regularly. The best non-profits are constantly innovating their strategies to better meet current realities. Innovation in strategy is a constant in the best organizations.
Engage differing generations
The best non-profits intentionally engage multiple generations to join them in their mission. Understanding this is critical because to focus on a single generation of donors and participants such as baby boomers will inevitably lead to a declining funding base. This will mean that we understand the concerns, commuinication and engagement patterns of different generations and be intentional in our engagement efforts. Remember the next generation is always to future to your missional success.
It is always a challenge to build a new organization around a specific mission. What we often forget is that it is also a challenge to keep that organization vital and relevant over the long haul. The challenge never ceases. It simply changes. These seven commitments can help you navigate the challenges long term.