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January 20, 2022
Befriend Business Principles to Work Smarter, Leaner
By Suzanne Dubus

Suzanne Dubus
Suzanne Dubus
To state the obvious, these days nonprofits have to work smarter and stay leaner to get stronger. And it’s becoming more and more of an imperative for nonprofits that they befriend business principles to achieve greater strength.

Gone are the days when the worlds of business and nonprofits were like two mutually exclusive camps on opposite sides of a deep river.

So how do nonprofits learn from the other camp?

Nonprofits can work smarter by creating programs they know will succeed.

Businesses wouldn’t be in business long if their widgets didn’t work. They make sure their widgets do work by conducting the initial research and development so they’re creating a proven product.

Nonprofits can do the same by crafting programs based on sound, evidence-based research.

Nonprofits can work smarter by tracking their successes.

Businesses use metrics to measure their success ”“ not just to bolster to prove to their stockholders that they’re producing a product or service that merits being in the marketplace, but also to improve on their best practices.

Nonprofits would be wise to follow suit and track, quantify and improve on the achievements of their programs and services.

Nonprofits can work smarter by seeking new revenue streams.

Businesses are always looking for new markets and opportunities to build their brand. Nonprofits should do likewise.

Often, in the course of their work, nonprofits develop an area of expertise and, as a result, may have a marketable service, program or product that can be replicated or sold elsewhere to other nonprofits. For instance, a nonprofit might offer training or professional development services to other nonprofits, or perhaps package their expertise in a training manual, which can then be sold. But it requires nonprofits to think like a business and recognize what it is that they do or have that might be valuable to another nonprofit.

Nonprofits can work smarter by expanding their market share.

Businesses routinely seek ways to expand their footprint and nonprofits would be well-served to do the same.

Nonprofits may be too provincial in their thinking and therefore miss many revenue opportunities by not considering what other clients might need their service or product ”“ whether they be in their backyard or across the country.

Nonprofits can work smarter by publicizing themselves.

It is almost antithetical to the nonprofit culture to toot its own horn, but there’s a good reason why businesses allocate so much of their budgets to marketing and public relations.

It’s quite simple: People won’t buy your product or use your service if they don’t know about it. And the public won’t donate dollars to an organization, no matter how worthy, if they don’t understand who it is or what it does.

As the saying goes, an organization can either brand itself or someone else will brand it first. Nonprofits should take the initiative, allocate the resources and create public awareness of their work so that a caring public will invest back with its support.

These are a few of the many reasons nonprofits have a stake in befriending the principles of big business. It is wise for nonprofits to remember: Business might occupy a different territory, but it is not the enemy camp.

Suzanne Dubus is the executive director of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a domestic violence organization in Newburyport that was named a national model of best practices at the National Summit to End Domestic Violence in November 2009.
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