What Nonprofits Can Learn from Entrepreneurs

25 Jul

While the definition of entrepreneur is “an enterprising individual who builds capital through risk and/or initiative,” I consider many nonprofit leaders to be a type of entrepreneur who sacrifices the known to reap a harvest of the betterment of humanity. Risk and initiative are certainly characteristics of every philanthropic leader that I know, and the investment that they commit to a cause surpasses any dollar amount a checkbook can hold. However, there are a few things that nonprofit leaders can learn from successful entrepreneurs; after all, business acumen is the crux upon which social good can be performed.

Is There a Market for Your Product?

While most nonprofits aren’t selling a product in the traditional sense, they are selling their ideals, their burden for a cause, and methods for solving a problem. First of all, does the community you are seeking to help in fact want your help? As a nonprofit, focus on who your clientele is and who is willing to support your vision both financially and with manpower. What demographic are you appealing to? Consider what methods you can pursue to get more donors on board. Check the water before you dive into new projects or change the direction of your course. If you’re passionate about keeping the ocean clean, Arkansas might not be the best place to locate your charity. If you want to keep the tradition of folk music alive, Brooklyn may not provide an audience for your concerts.

Don’t Be Too Specific

I have a friend who has tried for three years to start a business with a product in a saturated market, he can’t make it as cheaply as the competitors, he has no experience in that field, and it is so specific appeals to maybe 2% of the population. Look around you: how many other causes in a 100 mile radius are addressing the same issue you are? Do you have a pool of potential donors to financially support a new project? Review the resumes of your board. Do you have a variety of expertise and advisors to create a successful outcome? Do you have a broad and relatable cause that people will want to be a part of? You may want to save the endangered four-spotted gerbil found on the eastern border of the Sudan, but it may be hard to get the masses to rally around you. Instead consider promoting the preservation of endangered animals in the Sudan emphasizing the cause and effect of the loss of these animals. How will this devastation impact your donors directly?

On the flip side, are you standing out from the crowd with a specific enough goal? Of course we all want a great education for our kids, but consider addressing an issue that others aren’t such as providing updated computer labs for inner city youth or making sure every school in your district has an after school tutoring program. Specify a reason why your nonprofit is different from the others and how you are catering to a need that others aren’t.

Do Your Homework

Count the cost before you invest your time, money, heart, and future into your nonprofit or a future project that you want to pursue. Find a mentor or advisor that can critically look at what you are trying to achieve, someone who can give you the honest truth about whether it is attainable, how to survive long term, and what you need to have in place before you get going. The most important part: take their advice! Learn from their mistakes so you won’t have to make your own and study their successes to map out yours.

Part of doing your homework should also include getting your website and online fundraising site up and running smoothly. Before asking people for donations, ensure that information on your organization’s website and social media profiles is up to date. If they are inspired to give, you want to make it as easy as possible and strike while the iron is hot. Once the moment has passed, it may not come back! Use cold hard facts and numbers to explain the need, detail how you plan on chiseling the problem down, and share how supporters can partner with you. For larger supporters, create a packet including the previously mentioned information plus a budget, business plan, and your credentials. The foundation you build upon today will greatly impact the results you have for tomorrow.


One Response to “What Nonprofits Can Learn from Entrepreneurs”

  1. PaulLanning Aug 12 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Reblogged this on Philanthropy Matters and commented:
    Very apt comparison between nonprofit leaders and entrepreneurs. Nonprofit organzations – while ‘not for profit’ – are still businesses, and their leaders are quite often (and necessarily) risk-takers. The most successful are often the most entrepreneurial in their approaches.

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