One of the keys to having a successful nonprofit is asking pointed questions about your organization, and to respond with truthful answers. If you can find a way to do that, you’ll be able to identify what is working and what isn’t, what tactics you need to implement and which to improve upon—all to move forward and make a greater impact for your cause.
In my experience, I’ve seen that some nonprofits and ministries can honestly ask and answer these questions internally on their own, but that many need to bring in an outside partner (*insert shameless A Group plug here*) to help them navigate the next chapter. It can be very difficult when you’re in the weeds everyday, to scale back enough to really engage these questions.
Either way, what doesn’t work, is burying your head in the sand while your organization continues to fail at making the impact you so badly desire.
So here are a few pointed questions that might get you started on identifying some areas where improvement may be needed:
1. Are you getting anywhere?
It can be quite difficult (especially when you’re in the weeds) to see whether your nonprofit is accomplishing its ultimate goal. Sure, you have profit and loss statements, but they don’t always show the whole picture.
For instance, the goal for your cause may be to rescue women from sex-trafficking. Maybe you’re raising a lot of money from donors, but how many women are you actually rescuing? How much of the money you raise is going to your organization's real goals? What are your benchmarks within a specific time frame?
The world today is full of a lot of worthy causes. And many of these worthy causes are often competing for the same donors. Your cause will stand out only when you can demonstrate that you’re making a difference, and that you’re doing it as well as the next guy. You simply will not retain donors if you can’t prove that you’re accomplishing what you say you want to accomplish.
Measure your impact often. Share it with your donors. It will make a world of difference.
2. Are we being honest?
This may be one of the most important questions you will repeatedly ask about your nonprofit. You’ve probably figured this out by now, but in the nonprofit world your reputation is everything. In today’s culture, transparency equals trust, and if you want to strengthen your reputation, you have to increase your transparency.
In today’s culture the average consumer/donor is asking two questions about every business and nonprofit they associate with.
- Do they care?
- Are they real?
Hopefully, the first question is easily answered with a resounding “yes” by people who follow your nonprofit. The second question is where people tend to get hung up.
Are you real?
And “real” doesn’t have to mean that you’re always right or successful at what you’re trying to accomplish. It just means you're transparent with the wins and losses, the homeruns and the strikes.
Listen, people know that your organization is made up of humans and you guys aren’t going to succeed at everything you try. So it's pointless to try to portray that image because it brings serious doubts to your authenticity.
People just want you to communicate with them honestly—for your organization's message to reflect your reality.
3. What is one thing we’re currently doing that needs to be cut?
Nonprofits are notorious for chasing after the new shiny need. Most of us got into nonprofit work to make a difference, and it just seems logical to think that we need to do more things in order to make a bigger difference. But that’s often not true.
Prune. Healthy things get pruned.
When I was young, I can remember my mom reminding me of this old adage: ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’ And when you’re leading a nonprofit, there is an endless flow of opportunities that come your way. The needs never stop.
So aside from not chasing the new need, there’s often something that needs to be cut out of what you’re currently doing in order to make a bigger impact.
I’ve got a little farm outside of Nashville, where several years ago I bought a dozen or so, apple, pear, and peach trees. I was amazed to watch that after a year or two, they actually started to bear fruit—and tons of it, at that! It’s safe to say that I got a little too excited.
The fruit never made it to maturity. None of it. But I made a common rookie mistake: not pruning the fruit. The tree could never produce enough nutrients to bring that much fruit to maturity, so I got nothing. And in addition to that, many of the branches (the infrastructure) weren’t able to bear the weight of all the fruit, and a lot of branches just snapped and did long-term damage to the tree.
Storytime is over, I promise. But do you see where this is going? It’s possible that if you don’t prune the unnecessary fruit out of the way of your nonprofit, it will never reach its full potential and it could even cause some long-term damage that may take you years to recover from.
Without pruning unnecessary or underutilized programs, staff, initiatives, old practices, and buildings, you create a drag on finances and momentum that may literally kill your organization.
So, there you have it. The three questions that your nonprofit should be asking. Ask them honestly and ask them often, and you will be making a bigger impact before you know it.