Updated: Jun 9, 2022
Building a high-performing, successful nonprofit is never easy. Sustaining one is even harder, especially in the new “normal” of a complex and ambiguous world.
Yet nonprofit organizations need to remain stable, relevant, and resilient in the face of up and down cycles of budget cuts and an increasingly changing landscape.
To truly succeed, a nonprofit needs to be financially stable, with a passionate volunteer base, and committed and strong leadership – among other things. But those are not the only things separating the nonprofits that are barely making it from nonprofits that are truly thriving.
If you’re starting or running a nonprofit, there are a number of positive traits you can adopt to help your organization succeed.
7 Uncuffed Characteristics that separates us from others:
We Are Agile
We Are Focused On Our Mission, Always
We Develop Diverse Funding Sources
We Are Able To Mobilize And Inspire Others
We Are Digitally-Savvy
We Continuously Listen And Improve
1. We Are Agile
The origins of the term ‘agile’ come from a set of project management principles that were created by software developers in the 1990s.
Agile software development is based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.
The term is now used more broadly, including in the nonprofit world. Nowadays, successful nonprofits use some or all of the agile methodologies in their work.
These methodologies focus on frequent inspection and adaptation of strategies and activities (usually every two weeks). They also include a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork and clearly defined short-term specific tasks.
Agile nonprofits focus on delivering results in self-managed teams. In those teams, the hierarchy is not as present as in traditional models of management. There is also a big focus on transparency and an emphasis on frequent, short conversations. Immediate feedback is preferred instead of long meetings.
Agile nonprofits are all about responding to change rather than following a dusty yearly plan sitting somewhere on the office shelf.
If a nonprofit is to be successful today, it needs to continuously successfully face change and unexpected risks. The agile methodology can really help with learning and adapting fast. And organizations that are able to learn and adapt fast are the ones that are successful in today’s environment.
It can be difficult to change the culture of a nonprofit and get everyone on board with agile methodologies. This is especially the case if the nonprofit has been around for a while. The old and established habits and patterns are hard to break.
This is why it’s important to remember that ‘agile’ is not about one single thing, about one single methodology. Agile is a philosophy that you can adapt and distill into something understandable and applicable to your nonprofit. Just adopting a methodology for the sake of it won’t make your nonprofit succeed.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all agile’ methodology, nor is anyone's methodology guaranteed to deliver certain results. The secret is in experimenting until you find the way that will propel your nonprofit forward.
2. We Are Focused On Our Mission, Always
An organization’s mission is its reason for existing, its purpose, the where it’s “headed”. A successful nonprofit always remains focused on the mission, in spite of the firefighting that almost all nonprofit organizations need to do on an almost daily basis.
A healthy nonprofit clearly articulates its mission into a mission statement and then shares it. The mission statement is shared alongside the vision and the values with employees at every level of the organization and all other relevant stakeholders.
The nonprofit management in successful nonprofits constantly shares goals with employees and gets them on board.
Employees and managers in such organizations understand what is required to reach these shared goals. They feel ownership over them and they take daily steps to accomplish them.
In addition to that, successful nonprofit organizations are those which create a mission-oriented culture. In mission-oriented organizational cultures, employees have a clear sense of purpose. They understand how their roles contribute to the bigger picture and to the immediate and long-term goals.
The purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, and scalable nonprofit. It makes the work more enjoyable for employees and is an inspirational driver for engaging communities and other stakeholders. A strong sense of purpose can fuel results and become an engine for organizational success.
The connection between purpose and performance is clear. There’s mounting evidence that aligning an organization with a higher purpose drives results.
In a successful and healthy nonprofit organization, mission, values, and purpose are not just words on a plaque on a wall – they’re alive every day.
For Example, take a look at Vlany (A Nonprofit 501c3 legal service organization) who has dedicated five decades to provide legal representation to the local arts community.