Two Articles On Business-like Practices for Nonprofits

by Doug Hausken on February 7, 2013

The trend continues of people encouraging nonprofits to adopt more business-like practices. This is a good thing because after all, don’t we want our nonprofits to be as effective and efficient as possible? Don’t we want to actually solve the problems that we mention in our mission statements?

The two articles that I read recently that I am referring to are: “Defining Your Competitive Advantage” by Mollie West & Andy Posner for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and “Nonprofits: State the Goal, Set a Deadline, Get It Done” by Bill Shore for the Harvard Business Review.

The first article sets out a case for understanding what your organization’s competitive advantage is and gives a few useful ideas on how it could be applied. Many nonprofits are hesitant to think about their work being in a competitive environment, but regardless of whether they realize it or not, they compete every day for clients, funding, and public awareness. And only if you have carefully considered this competitive environment, can you figure out the areas that you excel in, what West and Posner call “attributes,” and can build on those parts of your brand and operational model.

In the second article, Bill Shore does a great job of encouraging nonprofits to set ambitious goals, measure their work against them, and be accountable for them. Why should we do it? Because we are trying to accomplish something, not just toil aimlessly for years and have nothing to show for it. But it is hard work to outline how to solve a problem. Many of the problems our organizations are trying to address are difficult to understand and are intertwined with other, just as intractable problems. And some within our organizations are more interested in fighting the good fight, than actually solving it.

Implementing business practices into your nonprofit’s operations is very much in fashion right now and for good reason. We need to have more to show for our labor. But it would be a mistake to assume that these are going to be the end-all and be-all. You and your organization need to be actively thinking about what you are doing and trying to fix things that don’t work right. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t fix it the first time, you probably need to just come at the issue from another angle. You might find one of the angles in the articles above.

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