Often nonprofits start-up and run on the energy that comes from the passion that is the original reason the organization was formed.  Founders put their heart and soul and sometimes personal resources to making the effort work.  And often they have great success —for a while.

However some unexpected event always seems to occur that puts the organization’s existence at risk—government funding gets cut, the economy takes a downturn, key donors or people leave, etc.  Unfortunately, it is only then that they realize that there are really two missions that the organization has—the passionate mission and the business mission.

Passionate Mission—this is why the organization was founded and is the moral compass for the organization.  It must never be compromised and should drive the organization’s direction.

Business Mission—the organization is a business and must be operated like one.  This will ensure long-term sustainability.  A nonprofit cannot succeed long term without being successful with both missions.  Some elements of the business mission are:

  • Think strategic—the board’s responsibility is to do the strategic planning for the organization, and operational oversight only.  The Strategic Plan is the board’s plan with strong input from the Executive Director, and the Operating Plan is the Executive Director’s plan with strong input from the board.  Too often, board of directors meetings are taken up “counting pencils” rather than doing operational oversight, looking only at significant deviations from the Operational Plan by exception.
  • Think like a for-profit business and get orders—the nonprofit’s customers are its donors.  They give money expecting that specific results will be obtained, the same as buying a product or service in the for-profit world, so it is important to understand what they are buying, measure it, and report the successes.
  • Think efficient, effective operations—your donors demand it.  They are giving money to your cause that was not easy to come by and you owe it to them.  Too often, with a lot of volunteerism being involved, people get involved with paths that don’t contribute significantly to the mission, and become a distraction.  Good planning makes sure everyone is on the same track.

People involved with nonprofits must recognize that there are always two missions—a  passionate mission and a business mission, and that you must succeed at both to be effective over the long term.

About the Author:

Rod has been a SCORE Mentor since 2004.  During his extensive 40 year career, Rod held various executive positions in Sales and marketing at General Electric Industrial Automation and Power Generation units and other energy and environmental companies. Rod has mentored more than 400 small businesses and 100 nonprofits as a member of SCORE and the Executive Service Corps. He has been a board member of seven Not for Profit organizations.

Nonprofits Have Two Missions—Not Just One