What Makes a Successful Nonprofit Organization?

By Shirmel Hayden

Hayden Oct 14I don’t know-how many recipes there are for a successful nonprofit organization, but I am sure there are plenty. Working in the nonprofit sector, I have seen organizations raise millions of dollars and have also seen them slowly lose those millions in funding support for many reasons which I cannot say are unknown.

While I sit at my desk thinking about how to grant write over $500,000 in the course of less than a year, I wonder if anyone saw the signs. The signs I speak of are the budgets that should be created to track not only the monetary, but also the in-kind donations given to the organization. The infrastructure of the program to determine whether or whether not the proposed program is working. Looking to see if a program shift in direction may need to occur for the sake of accomplishing the indicators and outcomes, which often is tied to funding. Understanding if staff have the capacity to understand and carry out the task at hand. Meeting with community members to see what the expectations are and how they would be involved. Taking time to get to know politicians to see if there is opportunity to work together, and if so, what would that partnership detail. The reason I include politicians is simply because politics is very different from a community-based nonprofit organization. From my experience, working together doesn’t seem to always have the same interest or direction.

In her article, “Tips for Running a Successful Nonprofit Organization,” Jennifer Mizrahi offers the following advice: have a clear vision, mission statement, theory of change and performance matrix, say ‘no’ to every good idea, perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough’, work backward from the finish line, remember to K.I.S.S (keep it simple stupid), lead from the front, there is no “I” in team, under promise and consistently over deliver, don’t forget to take a vacation and smile. While I agree with most of these, I am not sure they are the tips to successful nonprofit organization. While the ideas tell you what to do, this doesn’t capture the essence of how.

Working on my doctorate in Public Policy and Administration sprinkled with lots of work experience, I believe that this format makes a successful nonprofit organization:

  1. Pre-planning/Brainstorming.
  2. Planning/Budgeting.
  3. Organizational Management and Structure.
  4. Funding and Fundraising.
  5. Implementation.
  6. Program and Organizational Assessment.
  7. Quality Assurance.
  8. Expansion.

From my experience, it is the practice of excellent management and leadership that makes a successful nonprofit organization. THE SUCCESS LIES IN THE PEOPLE knowing that their roles and responsibilities are important. In addition to understanding how each part plays an important dynamic in the overall success of the organization. For far too long I have seen organizations practice missions, visions and outcomes without understanding how to successfully manage the finances. For nonprofit organization success, I think it is time to look a bit deeper.


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