We often hear that nonprofits should operate more like businesses. This statement makes a lot of negative assumptions about how nonprofits actually work. My experience is that most nonprofits have a lot to teach businesses about how to be successful. As I entered the for profit consulting world, I used many of the skills I observed from high performing nonprofits to create a successful business. Key lessons included:
- Focus on what you do best: Nonprofits are mission focused and align their programming with their core mission. As a small consulting business, it is important that we know our strengths and focus our work where we can be the most useful for our clients.
- Operate within your means: Nonprofits generally have limited access to credit and have to constantly demonstrate to their funders that they are fiscally responsible. This means being creative in identifying resources and keeping a close eye on all expenses. As a small business with an uneven income stream, we have to ensure that we are operating within our means and juggle cash flow to make sure that our obligations are met. Like our nonprofit friends, we minimize expenses and account for all costs carefully.
- Hire quality people: Nonprofits are masterful at employing individuals who are passionate about their work, have the ability to multi-task, and are willing to swap higher salaries for a supportive environment. In the work that we do, it is imperative that we hire people who have the skills and passion needed to serve our clients. We are so lucky to have Lily and the other wonderful folks with whom we partner.
- Relationships are your best Marketing Tool: Successful nonprofits recognize that they need to nurture their relationships with funders and community partners. If this is done well, these people become the best ambassadors for their organization. Similarly, as a consulting firm, the vast majority of our business comes from referrals from people with whom we have worked or who have spoken with someone about us. So, it is essential that we maintain strong relationships with our clients as they are our best source of future work and referrals.
- Outcomes are critical: Nonprofits have to constantly demonstrate their effectiveness. The pressure to show effectiveness has only increased over the last few years, and the best nonprofits have become masterful at showing how an investment in them results in positive outcomes for their client. As a consulting business we also need to ensure that expectations are clear, timelines and milestones are met, and that results are achieved.
I am grateful for all that I have learned from how nonprofits conduct their business. They have helped me to build a successful business, and they have much to teach other for profit businesses.