“The nonprofit model isn’t broken.  But the system is evolving and we can be better.”  - Mohan Sivaloganathan 

 

As the KWA begins its annual budgeting process, I thought it might be helpful to understand the current thought in nonprofit management. 

Ellen Rosewall points out in her book Arts Management that many in the nonprofit world are driven by a passion for a cause and have developed the feeling that money is a dirty word.  After all, claiming the moral high ground may be more difficult if at the end of the day social warriors are reduced to covering expenses just like any common business.  Although there is much to admire in many nonprofit missions, as well as the passion of their advocates, such a snobbish disdain for business realities may ultimately impede success. 

GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies, conducted a survey of newsletter readers asking, “What is the greatest challenge your organization faces?”  Nearly half – 46% - responded: “Finding the money to accomplish our mission.”  There is no lack of vision or enthusiasm, but finding a way to keep the doors open remains a challenge.  The connection between money and mission becomes all too clear in the face of financial challenges.

The grants “go-to” is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain as government funding continues to dwindle.  Nonprofit organizations must adjust their funding mix and focus on private funding: individuals, foundations and corporations.  With so many organizations competing for support, including socially conscious, for-profit corporations, nonprofits need a more business-based marketing mindset. 

Nonprofits understand the need for marketing, but similar to attitudes regarding money, many associate marketing with manipulation and reducing standards to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  “Not-for-profit arts organizations are supposed to be shielded from the marketplace.  Our bottom line is mission, not money.”  Such attitudes indicate that it may be time for many nonprofits to come down from the rarified air of good intentions and engage in the often-gritty work of problem solving.  Marketing does not need to compromise mission integrity, but the ability to accomplish the mission requires marketing.  In order to be successful, nonprofits must understand marketing principles and how they can be applied to mission-driven organizations.  This may require attitude adjustments and stepping out of comfort zones.

Many of the more forward-thinking nonprofit organizations have already made adjustments and are embracing a more entrepreneurial approach.  Telfair Museums’ Board of Trustees cited the combination of entrepreneurial skills and arts knowledge as essential for their new Director/CEO.  Colleges and universities like the Savannah College of Art and Design are doing a better job of preparing students for the new realities of nonprofit leadership.  However, too many organizations with laudable missions stubbornly cling to old prejudices, often at the expense of the opportunity to make a lasting difference in the communities they serve.

- Tracy Moon