A Way to Grow

In an ever changing and highly competitive world, growth is important to sustainability.  Part of the importance comes from the need to retain clients, donors, and staff.  The challenge is finding the right way to grow.

Your nonprofit can grow through merger or expanding your capacity (serving more clients).  Both are expensive, require new skills, and involve considerable risk.  There is a less expensive, lower risk, and faster way to grow.  In addition, your nonprofit already has all of the skills and capacity it needs for this growth.

Highly engaged clients will grow your nonprofit.  As your client engagement increases, your clients will have better outcomes.  Better outcomes will increase your mission’s value to your community, which increases community support and your nonprofit’s sustainability.  Increased sustainability provides a strong foundation for committing to the other two options for growth (merger and capacity building).

By traditional standards, growing through better outcomes (client engagement) is seldom recognized as growth.  However, your outcomes are the meaningful, measurable, and durable indicators that the promises of your mission statement are being kept.  Since the mission is the heart of every nonprofit and the nonprofit’s reason for existing, creating better outcomes is the most meaningful growth.  Since better outcomes are what donors give toward, it is the growth that will increase donor loyalty and generosity, which are the resources you need for capacity building and acquisitions.

Increased capacity to serve and growth through merger are important to survival.  However, only if your nonprofit is creating value for the community (fulfilling its promise to the community) is the survival of your nonprofit important to your community.  The level of support your nonprofit is receiving from your community is an indicator of the value the community places on your nonprofit and it demonstrates how important your nonprofit’s survival is to the community.

The engagement of retail clients is between 37% and 45%.  Nonprofit services are similar to many retail services and often built on the same model.  It seems reasonable to assume that client engagement of the typical nonprofit is in a similar range.  That suggests that about 60% of the clients are minimally engaged or disengaged.  That indicates there is plenty of room to grow your mission.

The outcomes most nonprofits promise are complex, time consuming, and difficult to achieve.  If you feel your clients are minimally engaged but are able to achieve the outcomes you have established, it may indicate that your mission is creating minimal value for your community.  If that is the case, there is a significant opportunity for someone else to enter the marketplace, provide clients with more robust outcomes, engage clients more fully, create more value for the community, and steal your community support.

Next Step:

Determine the engagement level of your average client

Make the programing and other adjustments necessary to double your client engagement

Use the improvement in client outcomes (depth, breadth, and percentage) to determine the success of your engagement program

The first step is to determine your current level of engagement.  From there it is possible to survey your exiting clients to determine their delight with your program and their delight with what they were able to accomplish.  The depth and breadth of the client’s outcome will determine the outcome’s durability.  The more durable the outcome the more likely the client is to tell others how delighted they were with your services.  The durability of the outcome is also a measure of the value of your mission to your community.

As your mission becomes more valuable to your community, your support from the community will increase (volunteers, donors, referrals, and advocates).  The growth in your clients (referrals) will result in a need to expand your capacity to serve.  The growth in donors will provide the resources necessary to expand your capacity to serve.  Client engagement is a steppingstone to a brighter future for everyone.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to use your growing value to your community as its indicator of increasing excellence in your programing

Create programing and processes that increase the engagement of your other stakeholders, especially staff, donors, volunteers, and board members


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