How Is Your Moat?

A castle’s moat was a key element in the sustainability of life within the castle.  Life inside the castle was never secure but it was much more so than life in the village surrounding the castle.  Without a moat, your nonprofit is just as vulnerable as the people living outside the castle.

Every nonprofit needs a moat.  In modern times, the moat is something that provides your nonprofit with the ability to provide superior results and outcomes.  Your results and outcomes must be robust enough that it will take others several years to bridge your moat.  Estimating the number of years it might take to match your superior results and outcomes provides you with one way to measure the sustainability of your nonprofit.  Your estimate assumes that other factors like the economy, government regulations, and social attitudes and values remain constant.  You could think of your time estimate as a way to measure the width of your moat.

Your mission is unique.  Your mission statement is inspirational and promises your community a solution to an important problem.  Your vision tells your community how much better life will be in the future as more and more people benefit from your services.  Your community wants the better life for your clients that your services create and your mission promises.

When the changes in your clients’ lives are superior to your clients’ other alternatives, you have created a moat.  It is the value of your services to your clients and community that determines the size of your moat.  Your community and clients will happily suggest ways to improve your results and your donors will be happy to fund the suggestions.  It is the recognition of your superior services by your clients and community that makes your moat valuable.

Donors and other supporters want to know that they are supporting a healthy nonprofit.  Your current financial statements and other operational measures tell them your nonprofit was healthy last year.  Your moat tells them that your nonprofit will be healthy for years to come.  Your moat tells them your nonprofit is a safe place to invest their emotions as well as their time and treasures.  They will know that your nonprofit has the strength to be loyal to them and meet their expectations.  Loyalty encourages loyalty.  Their loyalty will increase your nonprofit’s sustainability and the sustainability of your funding stream.

Next Step:

Define the moat that protects the future of your nonprofit

Ask your clients and community for suggestions that will strengthen your moat

Use your moat to grow donor support and attract new supporters of all types (donors, volunteers, referral sources, and advocates)

Create an annual goal for increasing the strength of your moat

Ask your board to allocate resources each year for strengthening your moat

Moats need constant maintenance.  Whatever your moat is, someone else will copy it and improve on it.  When they combine their uniqueness with what was your moat, they will have a superior moat.  The best way to protect your nonprofit’s sustainability is to enhance your moat.

Be proud of your moat.  Tell the world about it and its value to them.  Talking about your moat makes it obvious to everyone.  It also provides you with time to gather supporters and strengthen your current support.  While others are spending resources to catch up with your nonprofit, you will be gathering the support necessary to take the next step forward.

Be a leading nonprofit in your community by providing your clients with superior services.

Take It Further:

Recruit board members and staff members who always aspire to be better

Ensure that your moat is always client and mission centric (financial and operational moats are very shallow and short lived)

Use statistics as well as anecdotes to shape your clients’, donors’, and community’s perception of the strength of your moat


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