A staff member had their 1 year anniversary with us the other day. I then realized that 5 employees in the room had all come onboard within the past year. Needless to say, growth has been amazing - with both quality of services and students served growing simultaneously.
This doesn't happen for all nonprofits, but I think it can in fact work for most. First, what I am writing really applies to those nonprofits that provide some sort of direct service to the community. Second, maybe your organization is not looking to grow - there is nothing inherently wrong with an organization that is content at the level they are at.
Andson, however, is young and ripe for growth; so here are the three ground rules that did (do) in fact apply.
1. Partner, collaborate, rinse and repeat. Seems easy enough, right? Hardly - you have to make sure the partner shares passion, commitment and (most of all) information. We have been lucky. So many nonprofits today will try to "make a partnership work." This is the wrong move - it encourages “mission creep” in nonprofits. What two organizations must do is complement each other. This means that you both are filling a void or gap in each other’s programming. For Andson, because of partnerships this past year, we were able to learn structure and data collection, get into new schools or even get ideas about how events should be run. If both parties feel like they are getting the better deal - you have yourself a winning partnership. Once you have standards in place - MOU's, budgets and organizational hierarchy (so the CEO doesn't have to be covering your sites every afternoon) you can partner more quickly, with less hurdles. Hence, a 4-fold growth for Andson over the past year, which brings us to our next point.
2. Learn to say NO. Better yet, learn when it's time to say yes, or when further cultivation needs to occur. This was actually a hard one for me personally. When you're the small fish in a big pond, you want to take on everything you can to prove yourself. In all reality, perfecting a few things is much smarter than being an Swiss Army Knife of an organization - “jack of all trades, master of none.” Just because you cannot take on another project, doesn't mean you'll never be able to work with that organization or group. It just means that you should be selective, methodical and thoughtful from the beginning. This is a large part of why they say 90% of restaurants fail during their first year of operation. It certainly isn't a lack of passion; it's a lack of planning and smart business. Then there's the third point…
3. Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business plan. I can't say this is my quote - but I live it every. single. day. You want your nonprofit to be different? You have passion and a mission, so doesn't that mean you have to run that organization fueled by passion? Passion only scales with proper business operations. This really piggybacks on #2; for-profit organizations have passion too. They also have data, sales and stockholders. Run your organization like you have to make a profit. Run it with metrics; let data put a compass to that passion.
2013 was exciting and dynamic and crazy all at once. To not learn and strategize from that would be ineffective. I hope 2014 brings your organization efficiency and fulfillment!
The views shared here are not directly Andson's, this is just what got me personally through one year of running like mad.