Build Your Nonprofit by Building Your Intellectual Capital
By Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa

Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa
Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa
Your nonprofit’s most important resource is not your donor database or your special event. It’s the heads that walk through your door every day, which make up the differentiator known as intellectual capital.

Building your organization’s intellectual capital has become a science that has been shown to propel programs, services, and fundraising to higher standards of success.

To raise intellectual capital in your nonprofit in today’s competitive environment, create a culture that encourages creativity, innovation, and keeps your best heads around.

Thomas Stewart, early proponent of the concept of intellectual capital through knowledge management states: “Like Lyme disease, knowledge management problems have symptoms that sometimes mimic other problems.” Each of these symptoms indicate that people in the organization are not finding knowledge, moving it around, keeping it refreshed and up to date, sharing it, or using it.

Here are some signs that indicated your organization may be falling short in developing its intellectual capital:
  • Same mistake #147; for the seventh time
  • Duplicated effort
  • Silos of expertise, i.e., knowledge is not shared
  • Someone is out and work comes to a halt
  • Consistent loss of materials and information for routine projects and processes
  • Goals and objectives consistently not met
  • Poor customer feedback on performance
  • High turnover of excellent performing staff
  • Declines in finance, membership, and other performance measures
  • Poor employee morale
This list is not exhaustive but you get the picture. Nonprofits that have not yet placed knowledge management of intellectual capital as a core business function tend to experience one or more of these symptoms.

Growing Intellectual Capital
Growing and retaining intellectual capital requires strategy, planning, and a way to measure progress. Some steps to take in growing intellectual capital include:
  1. Make sharing knowledge easy: Create an organizational Wiki, a place for staff to enter learned concepts and share information or ideas.
  2. Encourage online communication: Organizational bulletin boards where your brightest can test theories through communication
  3. Reward innovative thinking: Most organizations are risk averse. This translates into new processes and programs meeting significant pushback. Flip your model of operating around to encourage, embrace and reward new processes and programs.
Retaining Intellectual Capital
Findings from the 2012 national Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey conducted by Nonprofit HR Solutions indicate that three-quarters of nonprofits do not have any formal strategy for retaining staff. That’s money out the door.

Surprisingly, in repeated studies of the nonprofit sector, rate of pay is not as important to retention as you may think. Here is what is important:
  1. An environment that encourages and rewards autonomy. That means self-direction, flexible work hours and environment (work from home, caf—, beach), and a results-only measurement model. Innovative people like innovative work styles.
  2. Frequent, positive, and meaningful feedback on work results. Especially with the newer generation of rising stars, Millennials thrive on feedback. This is a generation that, for good or bad, had helicopter parents, teachers, and coaches giving direction, encouragement, and correction at every step.
  3. A role that requires diversity of talents, skills, and functions. Many of the most successful people I know, have an entrepreneurial attitude about their work, even if they don’t own the company. Unlike multi-tasking (doing many things at once), multi-talenting is using a variety of talents, learned experiences, and ideas in the execution of your work.
  4. Collaborative work. As a society, we have gained an addiction to tribal-ness: the desire to be affiliated and interrelated in our communication, experiences, and work efforts. Collaboration also has the benefit of growing your intellectual capital through knowledge management. It needs to be encouraged.
  5. Work that is meaningful. Your creatives, your innovators, and those who are bringing the most intellectual capital to your organization, want to know that the results they are accomplishing actually are feeding into higher levels of success. Show them the corollary in an authentic and factual way.
Intellectual capital is a key driver for competitive advantage in today’s environment for the nonprofit sector. Simply put, the organization that grows the brightest and holds them, wins.

Therefore, intellectual capital is an important—perhaps the most important—resource that nonprofits can nurture in order to best increase their effectiveness, on a sustained basis, in serving their constituency and funding their mission.

Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa, president of Harvest Development Group, LLC. helps nonprofits raise more money, innovate culture, and gain successful outcomes in performance. Call her at 860-575-5132 or email

August 2012