Five Lessons that Also Apply to Nonprofits

The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently published “Five Lessons for New Philanthropists.” As I read the article, I couldn’t help but see the strong correlation to how these lessons can also apply for nonprofits:

  1. Scan the ecosystem first. The nonprofit sector has exploded in size over the past few decades. There is a nonprofit that is supporting just about every social cause imaginable. There are also a lot of well-intentioned people who want to start a nonprofit. But chances are that a nonprofit already exists to support that cause. Thus, before you launch a new nonprofit or even decide to start a new program, first figure out who else is doing it and if there is a way that you can support those existing efforts.
  2. Make the time. As the article points out, systemic change takes time. This is true for nonprofits, and that is why it is so critical to stay focused on the end goal that you’re trying to achieve. So make sure that you regularly take the time to step back and ensure that you’re mobilizing your resources and channeling your energy into the right activities. Otherwise, you might need to visit your “stop doing” list!
  3. Get comfortable with ambiguity. If nonprofits were solving easy problems, then we would have a near-perfect world. But the issues that nonprofits tackle are complex and usually involve numerous root causes. Determining how best to solve those issues is not always clear. It’s complicated and it’s hard – and it likely won’t be solved by your organization alone. So open your circle to working with partners and be willing to share credit for the progress that you make.
  4. Use unrestricted funding – wisely. General operating support is hard to come by. Thus, when your organization is fortunate enough to receive unrestricted funding, spend it with transparency, and let the funder know how you’re using it and how it’s advancing your work. Not only is this a best practice, but it could open up doors for other organizations to receive general operating support.
  5. Use data as a tool, not a solution. It’s not a secret that there has been a huge emphasis on data over the last few years. Nonprofits are expected to collect it, to analyze it, and to produce it upon request. It can be cumbersome and overwhelming. But data can help nonprofits tell their story in order to raise awareness and raise funds. So figure out how to incorporate data into your everyday work – across the organization – so that everyone can play a part in achieving your organization’s vision.
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