Your Non-Profit IS a Business

We have worked with numerous non-profits over the years.  One issue we see that the majority have in common is that they don’t operate like a business. Many times, the founders of the non-profit are what we call ‘technicians,’ folks with a fantastic skill set in a particular field; but, are not always business savvy.

One important aspect of a non-profit is to accept the fact that you are a business. I have had many non-profit founders question this logic; but, it can all be summed up in one simple phrase – “you are competing against other non-profits for donations, volunteers and time’ – in other words, you are a business.

This is great and all; but, how does a technician run non-profit develop a business style development process. I am not talking about a cut throat do, anything to get the buck business mentality; which, most technician run non-profits associate business with. No, I’m talking about stabilized growth with focus on the customer (the customer being the person, place or thing the non-profit donates to and the donors and supports of the non-profit).

First, I recommend putting in place a business plan. Detail out a mission statement, your three month, six month, one year, five year and succession goals. Create a mind map of all the ‘players’ you need to help you in your process of ‘business growth’ (Xpleo tip – use a mind mapping application like XMind ( to assist you). Find a resource that can help you develop a business plan (Xpleo tip – I like Rhonda Abrams. Her books are straight forward and easy to navigate; check out Successful Business Plan Secrets & Strategies (

Second, invest in your ‘business.’ I recommend hiring a business coach and a sales coach. Yes, this may seem out of the ordinary for a non-profit; but, it will teach you and your staff how to look at your non-profit as a business. The additional benefit is that these folks will get the wheels spinning for new ways to raise funds for your non-profit through the use of guerrilla marketing and sales tactics.

Third, you will need to market your non-profit. Understand that without marketing, no one will know you exist. Marketing doesn’t mean you need to break the bank. Here are a few tools you will need to build your non-profit ‘business brand’:

  • Modernize your brand – Keep your brand fresh. Want to see some of the top branding for non-profits? Visit the following link to see what top non-profits are doing to build their brand image:
  • A professional website – If your website looks like it is from the 1990’s, the chances of reaching high dollar donors drastically decreases
  • Spread your message – In the 24/7 news cycle we have today, your brand can be built by developing relationships with folks in the media. Reach out to the media and ask them what non-profit stories they are working on and ask them how you can be a resource for them.
  • Grass roots – Tradeshows are an inexpensive and powerful way to explain your non-profit message. Plan at least one major tradeshow per quarter to showcase your non-profit brand. Bring plenty of collateral to provide folks visiting your booth. Also, make sure you have a game plan on what you want to accomplish at the tradeshow; IE: sign up 100 new email list names, find a sponsor for your non-profit, obtain donations, etc. (Xpleo tip – make sure your print collateral is in line with your modernized brand and looks professional)
  • Get in front of the camera – Nothing tugs at the heart strings more than a video message that speaks to your cause. Here is a video we produced for OCJ Kids, featuring Gary Webb, talking about his non-profit:

Forth, enact a Board of Directors – To paraphrase Walt Disney, “surround yourself with the people that can do the things you can’t or don’t want to do; so, you can focus on the things you want to do.” Form a Board of Directors that not only believe in your cause; but, are willing to donate time and energies to help expand your cause. (Xpleo tip – Choose Board Members that can help you with your marketing, media, business development and sales). I recommend choosing Board Members that have been on Boards of Directors previously. Make sure you have a clear vision and goal of how your Board Members are going to assist you in the growth of your non-profit.

Finally, choose the right organizational tools – Pick tools that will help you streamline processes at your non-profit. Instead of the ‘pinball effect,’ bouncing from one fire to the next, be proactive. Utilize tools such as OmniFocus (, Evernote (, Sunrise (, XMind ( and Dropbox ( to keep you organized and your processes flowing seamlessly. (Xpleo tip – check out David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’: and Asian Efficiency:

In concluding, there are many more items we could delve into in making sure your non-profit is taking on more of a proactive business based approach; but, these are some top level ideas that can get you started on the right path.

Please contact me if you want to discuss your non-profit and how to make the shift to running your non-profit more like a business.