Friday, February 1, 2013

Structure without stricture - A winning strategy for nonprofits


My clients and my blog (http://cloudlancerwriting.blogspot.com) readers know that I am a proponent of nonprofits becoming more “business-oriented”.  Cloudlancer Writing Services exists because there are too many small or newer nonprofits on the edge of failure.  I firmly believe that to both survive and succeed in your mission, your organization needs to have some elements of the business (for-profit) world within your organization.  You need simple things like having a plan to move forward, defined programs that you can easily articulate to supporters and budgets so that you can assess how much impact the program will have on your mission.  You need boring documents like contracts and personnel manuals to keep your organization legal and good financial records to keep the IRS and your donors happy.  You need a board that will help your organization succeed, not just take up space in the board room.

Those things are structural.  It’s sort of like building your dream house.  The framework and the foundation keep the house upright, and allows for intelligent expansion. Still, a house with just the concrete and 2x4’s in place looks pretty much like every other house.  What will make the house your home are the things you add to give it personality.  When you add color, lovely finishes, a yard and friends and family, you have a home.

When I tell clients that they need better organizational structure, some of them feel that approach will mute the message about the mission.  They feel that focusing on “the bottom line” will prevent them from moving forward.   My view of the business side of their nonprofit feels confining.  They feel strangled by the “rules”. In reality, the structure will support and advance your mission.  It’s a lot easier to go out and give a passionate speech about your cause, if you are sure the lights will still be on next month.
 
On the other hand, if you are so focused on the structural portion of your dream house that you never get the yard planted, or the walls painted, you will never live in your dream house.

Get the framework in place, and like the 2 x 4’s in your walls, you won’t have to think about it much in the future.  Yes, you may have to watch for dry rot(complacency) or make sure you don’t have termites (outside threats),  but mostly, you are then free to advocate confidently for your cause.
 
Confidence is attractive.  If you feel good about your organization it will be evident to donors.  Desperation is seldom a good public relations tactic.  If you find yourself constantly asking for money just to survive, people will be fearful about investing in your cause.  On the other hand, if you can make your appeals all about achieving your mission, you will allow your donors and grantors to share in that passion and vision with enthusiasm and commitment.

Structure without strangulation is a winning strategy for nonprofits.  There is a point at which you can deviate from a strict business model, and you should.  Once the structure is supporting your organization, you can focus on your real goal of achieving your mission.