The Best Non-Profits Have Much In Common With For-Profits

Over the years I’ve had the blessing of serving non-profits as a volunteer, board member, leadership coach, and as a strategy and performance evaluator. And one big thing has jumped out at me.

The best non-profits have much in common with for-profits. Especially in terms of goal setting and strategies. They don’t mistake good works for good planning or presume low cost is the same thing as cost management. They don’t overcommit or overspend.

Specifically I’ve found:

  1. The best non-profits know their numbers and count the cost.   They don’t just repeat national statistics – they know their target audience. There is a purpose for their programs and what it costs to get it done well with continuity. For example, a prison program might count successful long-term employment, instead of recidivism rates. They define performance and evaluation criteria before each program year.
  2. The best non-profits don’t chase money. They are razor-focused on their mission and disciplined about accomplishing it. A charter school might focus upon college graduation rates for their students, and not be tempted to introduce new curriculum simply because a donor will pay for it. They know the most faithful and consistent funds come from like-minded donors and do not accept money that will force them off mission.
  3. The best non-profits value outcomes over activities. They are focused on ways to change situations, not just feeding their symptoms. As an example, homeless shelters might measure the number of families remaining out of homelessness for five years, instead of only counting the number of meals or beds they provide. They remain focused and build upon what they do next, instead of chasing the next need without a plan.

In summary, the best non-profits know they can help the largest audience and do the most good by staying focused on their mission and working for the long-term.

Hmmmm. I also know some unintentional “non-profits” who could learn a thing or two from these disciplines too.

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