Nonprofits are a part of the trifecta that form our civil society, operating in partnership with the for profit and public sector. They are meant to serve community needs and meet gaps in service that aren’t viable for market solutions and those that the government are unable or unwilling to provide.
But all responsible nonprofits should work to put themselves out of business.
Nonprofits are continually highlighting how their service demands are growing as a tool to elicit additional fundraising dollars. They message a constant urgency of need which in turn can evoke feelings of panic in their marketing materials to demonstrate their viability in a competitive landscape for donor dollars.
But what if they didn’t laud that the number of service recipients had grown again this year? What if they didn’t highlight expansions of programs?
Instead, nonprofits have the opportunity to emphasize how their programs are a part of a larger social fabric that is working to both serve the need and stem the bleed.
But what about mission creep, you ask? Being a conscientious nonprofit player does not have to translate into taking on additional programs that are beyond your organization’s scope. Instead, an organization simply reframes its approach to include an upstream awareness, and how they contribute to the larger ecosystem of the issue area.
One way nonprofits can do this is by advocating for and on behalf of the issues they work in. This is different than lobbying for a specific candidate and allowable under nonprofit law. They can also be strong allies to their partners working in the space as well as serve a critical role in educating, informing, and activating their supporters.
Nonprofits may not often have significant or discretionary budgets at their disposal, but they do have a number of other strengths that they can utilize:
- they are better able to obtain media attention and often have direct relationships with journalists who are eager for human interest stories;
- they maintain better reputational credibility than their for-profit colleagues;
- they often have significant reach across their platforms (social media, newsletter, third party partners, events, etc.)
- they can position and message themselves in conflict to unhelpful or disastrous policies, pushing public leadership to clarify or adjust their positions
- they often have a roster of influential and powerful funders that they can reach out to in support
If your senior leadership really embraces the ‘out of business’ strategy, you might consider doing some strategic planning at your next Board and staff retreat to rethink some of your initiatives or how you’re dedicating resources. Focusing on out of business milestones can be just as exciting for your donors and can be marketed in playful ways that inspire and galvanize funders. Consider celebrating an out of business milestone. You may be surprised at how instrumental they can be.
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