Nonprofits, what is your business?

Lewis M. Rambo, PhD, Executive Coach, Management Consultant

Lewis M. Rambo, PhD, Executive Coach, Management Consultant

Recent events have many nonprofit organizations and institutions wondering about their ability to survive. We encourage leaders to think about changing and thriving. But that requires hard work, sometimes more than what board members and executives thought they “signed up for.”

Let’s start with answering the question “To Non-Profits …What Business will we be in?” Rosa L. Hunter and Lewis M. Rambo, PhD. ask this question in their provocative article of the same name. They ask nonprofit leaders to think of those they “serve” as “customers.”

“Every non-profit leadership team could, wisely, use this opportunity to examine the shifts that are occurring or implied by its particular “prevailing reality” and, yes, take a clear-eyed look at the impact these unimaginable forces have had on them, their organization and their Customers. Like it or not, at the end of each and every day, not-for-profits are in business and, as such are actually serving customers.”

While the phrase “customers” can make some nonprofit leaders uncomfortable, there is more discomfort to come. Here are a few samples of what Hunter and Rambo have to say.

Rosa Hunter

Rosa Hunter

“Some may be surprised to know that we have more than 1.6 million organizations approved as tax-exempt under Section 501-c-3 of the US Internal Revenue Code. Each and every one of these non-profits will be in search of the donations and resources felt needed to restart themselves and fund their operations. The competition for resources will be fierce! For that reason, it is time, right now, for the leaders of every non-profit to begin creating a thoughtful, data driven, honest, no nonsense conversation among themselves about the organization’s reason to continue to exist.”

We often write about the importance of a nonprofit’s case for support or “business brief.” This document – and the work it takes to produce it – is at the heart of fundraising success, organizational health, and sustainability. Hunter and Rambo echo our core message.

“The questioning will have to begin with asking: ‘What business are we in? What are we selling?’ … Just because your organization is designated as a non-profit does not mean that it is not in business! The phrase ‘non-profit’ refers merely to its tax status.”

“As surprising as it might seem, non-profit organizations are selling themselves to donors and potential donors, to their communities, and to those they have targeted to receive (i.e., buy) what they offer. The board, its Executive Director and the leadership and management teams may have a hard time accepting that their organization has customers. Going a step further, determining exactly who their ‘customers’ are, and then coming to an agreement on what their customers are ‘buying,’ can be even more confounding.”

Hunter and Rambo end their column with nine actions that nonprofit leaders can take to help ensure they are actually meeting “customer” needs. Read it for yourself and share it with your board. While there is no one “right answer” to achieve – the process will take you into the future equipped for what’s next.

Learn more: register now for our July 22nd webinar Making the Case hosted by the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy.


Don’t forget:

Copyright 2020 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you find your way through this unknown time. Video and phone conferencing services always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727.

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