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The importance of adaptability, self-awareness and innovation in managing nonprofit growth

Originally published: January 2017

The Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas has been counseling grieving children and their families in the San Antonio, Texas, area for nearly 20 years. Over time, we've learned the importance of adaptability, innovation and self-awareness.

Expand capacity by setting goals and building support

To support capacity building, we suggest taking stock of your current phase of growth. Honestly and thoroughly acknowledge your challenges (such as resources, community engagement and brand awareness in your community). This will help you set realistic goals and build a strong foundation to support your organization — and your community — for years to come.

For example:

  • The start-up phase. You're young, energetic and full of passion. You have a great mission to serve your community. You might be a very small operation — even a one-person show — striving to change the world. At this phase, our organization operated out of the founder's car.
  • The strengthening phase. You're growing your organization. Critical tasks: develop a strong business model with the help of your board or an external consultant; initiate a capital campaign to bring in funds and market your organization to the community; and use careful data analysis to bring areas of weakness to light. During the strengthening phase, we established a stellar board of advisers comprised of established business leaders within the community.
  • The mature phase. You've accrued more funds, established roots within the community and recruited reliable volunteers. You've refined your craft and are running smoothly. Now you can think about innovation and expansion. During this phase, we added a summer camp program, adjusted our hours to be more conducive to the population we're serving, and expanded our staff to reach more people.

Once you reach the mature phase, keep an eye on your mission. While it may be tempting to add programs to gain funds, diversifying too far may spread you too thin — and you'll risk missing out on the whole point of why you created your nonprofit in the first place.

Prior to her work with the Children's Bereavement Center, Dr. Marian Sokol has worked with organizations dedicated to promoting safe pregnancies and survival of babies through the first years of life. Dr. Sokol also served 21 years as founding executive director of Any Baby Can of Texas, a model support center for critically and chronically ill children. Dr. Sokol also chaired the National Advisory Committee for Childhood Vaccines, co-chaired the Board of International Stillbirth Alliance and has been appointed to statewide commissions addressing prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome, and child abuse fatalities.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Executive Director, Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas