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What your nonprofit needs to make meaningful impact toward your mission and goals.

If you’re a board member or non-profit leader, your nonprofit can be one that goes from surviving to thriving. Growing to scale and dominating your particular industry, takes commitment to think and work differently than many nonprofits operating in the sector today. Here are three elements to get your organization to the next level:

  1. Leadership
  2. Vision
  3. Financial literacy

These are the crucial components for nonprofit success. These fundamentals are required not only for a nonprofit but also for any business.

The 21st century is shaping up into one that will fundamentally shift everything we know in human existence — particularly because of technology — but also because leaders are burning reinventing the rules. As you grow and develop your organization, you'll need a relentless focus on leadership, vision and finance. If you do that, you increase your chances of success in the modern era.


Leaders of all kinds must remain in a state of evolution, constantly refining the qualities that make them leaders. Leaders must also have a clear vision of who or what they're helping. By staying connected to their nonprofit missions, leaders must establish meaningful connections with their teams, be self-reflective on what is happening at their nonprofit and be willing to accept failures alongside the successes.

Good Leaders understand it’s essential to keep their eyes on what’s ahead and in front, and they have to always look at themselves in the mirror.


Vision sets the stage for the successes that will follow for an organization. Not all charities understand that clearly outlining and communicating the full vision they hope to achieve will make a better future than what exists today. A defined vision for your organization means executives can inspire others to follow. Vision is an essential aspect of philanthropic work because it helps motivate and drive passion –– both for teams and supporters.

There are fundamental building blocks that are essential to help any leader create a powerful vision.

  1. Attitude. You have to have the right perspective, even when you're faced with failure. Success through failure only occurs when you have an attitude that is determined, open, humble and believes in something better.
  2. Innovation. Nonprofits that will succeed in the future are those that innovate. They must understand the societal and cultural trends that are happening as they relate to demographic, psychographic and technological innovation. Organizations have to work to stay relevant (and preferably be thought leaders) in a world that is now used to change and evolution at break-neck speeds.
  3. Risk. With change comes risk. One of the reasons I believe that many nonprofits are continually spinning their wheels and staying in place is because they don’t risk enough. Many nonprofit leaders don’t want to disrupt and they’re uncomfortable with uncertainty. They fear that they will upset the board or perhaps their major gift donors, in particular. But no one is saying to take a reckless risks, but smart and calculated risks are essential. In fact, I would say that your supporters want you to be bold and take risks.

Money is everything

All nonprofits understand they need to actively fundraise to make an impact. But executive directors, board members and leadership teams do not fully embrace the topic of money. If you're not comfortable talking about money, it's time to change. Here are seven reasons you need to be open about your fundraising objectives.

  1. Money is measurable. Eliminate ambiguity about the funding your nonprofit requires.
  2. Money expands capacity. Your objective to create positive change will be more achievable with more resources, staff, and technology. Fundraising makes that happen.
  3. Money creates margin. Reserve funds and endowments are a good thing for nonprofits and can help when the economy dips or goes into recession.
  4. Money forces decisions. How your nonprofit spends money represents your priorities and values. If you’re looking to develop and get beyond surviving, how you spend charitable funds is going to be important.
  5. Engagement. Successfully reaching your fundraising goals means you're successfully engaging your supporters. The more people that know about your mission and support it, the more successful your nonprofit becomes.
  6. Competitive advantage. Nonprofits constantly compete with one another for funding. Money gives nonprofits an edge when for fundraising whether that is through expanded marketing, campaigns or other outreach. More money means you can reach a wider group of potential donors.
  7. The ability to take risks. Fortune favors the brave and those who can risk are the ones who ultimately win. Taking risks doesn't mean being wildly irresponsible with donations, but piloting new initiatives should not present a problem with donors who want to be sure they're helping social impact.

Your nonprofit is the total sum of its parts

If your donors believe you’re not adequately addressing the challenges you have as your nonprofit mission well enough, they will look for another organization to send their money to. Millennials and Generation Z have lived their entire lives in the digital age, and they have a deep faith and fluency in technology. Generation X and Boomers can serve as a bridge between their experience as we transition to an age dominated by technology.

The constant state of innovation, disruption and development is going to benefit visionaries who understand the values of strong leadership, vision and the amount of money that it will take to accomplish what they need to get done. These leaders are a new breed of managers and philanthropists who are not satisfied with the way things are and are always looking to improve and make things better.

You have to be focused and driven if you want your organization to succeed in a new era of technology and philanthropy. You need to hire the best team, actively pursue investment into institutional capacity and to believe you’re going to go from surviving to thriving because nothing else matters for your organization than growing, becoming strategically sustainable and making a deep and meaningful impact toward your mission and goals.

Adapted from "3 Key Elements to Take Your Nonprofit from Surviving to Thriving" by Wayne Elsey..



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