Monday, March 23, 2009

It IS a business!

For a long time I have heard people say they don't work in the corporate world, they work for a nonprofit. Nonprofits are actual corporations, they are simply nonprofit corporations. There is an everlasting misconception that nonprofit work is fundamentally different from the "corporate world" and therefore share little in common.

The truth is that nonprofits and for profits are fundamentally the same. There are the same issues with human resources, regulatory compliance, marketing, research and development, and sales. "Sales?", you say. Yes, sales!

For-profits sell widgets. Nonprofits sell units of service. Without making a value judgement on which is better - widgets or units of service, understanding that the mechanisms that allow for the consumption of widgets or units of service are nearly identical.

When a for-profit company decides to create a widget, they get the research and development department to come up with an idea. This idea is tested, modeled, and brought before potential investors. If the for-profit is successful, investors invest, the widget is made, the widget is sold, and enough revenue is generated to allow the widget to be produced indefinitely.

When a nonprofit decides to create a social service, they do research on the social problem and the best solution to come up with a program society can benefit from. The program is tested, modeled, and brought to potential investors such as individual donors, corporate sponsors, foundations, and government funders. If the nonprofit is successful, investors invest, the program is given enough money to start, units of service are delivered, and enough revenue is generated to allow the program to be operated indefinitely.

In nonprofits, like for-profits, there are quality control concerns, contractual obligations, and productivity quotas. In both, there are hirings, firings, 401k's, and medical insurance concerns. Aside from the difference between the unit of service and the widget, the differences are strikingly small.

The real difference comes in the perception of the nonprofit. Many who enter the nonprofit arena are dismayed to find out that the real service to the community lies in the ability to run a nonprofit successfully. The ability to do this lies in careful management of employees, the bottom line, and the Board of Directors. These responsibilities are a welcome challenge to the person who understands a nonprofit is not just like a business, it IS a business!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It Can Be Done

Resources are scarce. Jobs are scarce. Good news is scarce. By now, we have heard it all. While these scarcities are a reality, there are still resources available. At a conference I attended recently for child care providers, there was a session about new funding opportunities. When the speaker announced there would only be five new funding opportunities in the coming months, half of the room walked out. I thought, great, my competition is cut in half. Understanding the competition for these resources is vital to getting the resources.

The reason the people walked out of the room wasn't apathy, it was hopelessness. The challenge of getting funding seems insurmountable, but the truth is, organizations WILL get funding. It can be your organization. There are three keys to getting funding in today's market:

1. Be the Most Qualified Service Provider: In your grant proposals, tell how your organization is the best, biggest, most qualified agency. Set your organization apart by highlighting past accomplishments and future goals. Nothing about your application should read, "Business as usual."

2. Serve the Most with the Least: Many proposals today read like bidding wars where the one who does the most with the least wins. Knowing this, make certain you keep your administrative overhead low and your units of service high. Look at your proposal with a critical eye and ask how you can increase the amount of direct service you are delivering. Here, quantity counts!

3. Collaborate: Funders want to spread the wealth. Build collaborations into your proposal so funders have the opportunity to take credit for funding more agencies with less money.

If you don't pursue funding, others will. By being proactive and tenacious, you can be funded!