Thinking Strategically Improves Sustainability

Your nonprofit’s sustainability depends on its strategy. For that reason, a periodic review of your strategy can often give a lift to your nonprofit’s sustainability.

The place to start the review is with the question “Who should benefit from what we do?” It is a different question from “Who should we serve?”

Let us think about an organization that serves youth. If it locates a center in a new neighborhood with young families, it may find success for several years. However, when the youth begin going to college, it may be hard to find enough youth to keep the center open. When the focus is on “Who should we serve?” it is difficult for the leadership to shift from youth to something else.

When the organization starts with a question like “What can we do for the people in the Bloomingdale neighborhood?” today’s answer might be to establish a youth center if it is a new neighborhood with young families. In a few years, the answer may be to develop a program for single-parent families. Years later, the answer might be something else.

In the second example, the leadership is thinking about what people need rather than who the leadership wants to serve. When the focus is on what people need, it is easier for the nonprofit to shift its focus and remain relevant.

In the first example, the youth are the clients. In the second example, the people in the neighbor are the clients even when their children who are being served.

Next Step:

Develop programming around the needs of those in your community (how ever you define community)

Recruit board members and staff members whose focus is serving the community rather than serving specific clients

Keep the donors focused on the needs of the community rather than who your nonprofit is serving

If your donors are focused on helping youth, when the youth grow up it is hard to find the financial support in your current donor base to serve a different population. Changing programming is hard or risky because of the potential disruption in the funding stream. However, without changing the programming, the sustainability of the nonprofit is likely to decline.

The more you focus on meeting the needs of your community the more demand you will find for what you do and the more support you will receive from donors, volunteers, referral sources, and advocates. In addition, the less your nonprofit will be affected by changes in the economy, demographics, or other factors.


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