July, 2011 -by Peter C. Brinckerhoff

This issue's topic: Is Growth Good for Your Mission?

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This Month's Topic: Is Growth Good for Your Mission?

Sites of the Month

Each month, this area provides with a number of my favorite and most helpful sites regarding the topic of the month.

Management Tip of the Month

Each issue, I start with a discussion of my management perspective on the month's topic, and give you a few hands-on ideas to consider.

Recommended Publications

Here, I provide you with my recommendations on the  materials available that can help you become more mission-capable in the area of  Good Growth


I provide you with some good ideas for uses of tech to better your organization in the area of  Good Growth

Marketing Tip

So much to say, so little space to say it.....

Next Issue

In August we'll look at the pros and cons of a strategy around cash: "Can Nonprofits Have Too Much Money?"

Past Issues:
You can see the topics of past Mission-Based Management Newsletters, and then view those that are of interest to you, by scrolling to the bottom of the newsletter, or by clicking here.

Websites of the Month

Here are my recommendations for websites and blogs of interest on this issue's topic: Good Growth for Nonprofits

www.alliancetrends.org/nonprofits.cfm?id=56 Interesting trend feed from the Alliance for Children and Families
http://www.ssireview.org/opinion/ Excellent piece on Challenges for Nonprofit Growth from the Stanford Social Innovation Review

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Management Tip 

Is growth good for mission?

At a recent nonprofit conference, a speaker from a major US foundation was making the point that any nonprofit getting a grant from them must "take their idea to scale" in other words, grow and grow quickly.  This led to a discussion at our table about growth, and the consensus seemed to assume that growth is always a good thing. I demurred, asking my table mates to think through both the good and the bad things that happen when a nonprofit grows. We came up with a long list on both sides of the issue, and I suspect that the people there were wondering who the cranky old guy was who spoiled the fun conversation.

The problem is--growth can be a big problem for nonprofits, and assuming that we should always be in growth mode can lead to real and significant problems. I want to make four points about nonprofit growth here, and then we'll dive down a bit more next month.

1. A growing nonprofit can (but not necessarily will) do more hands-on mission. This is the good news. By growing (measured by units of service provided) you provide more service...obviously. That's good as long as quality stays high (see below) and meets the overarching goal of any nonprofit which should be to help as many people, touch as many lives, do as much mission as possible. The trap here is measuring growth by money and not by outcomes. I recently worked with a large nonprofit who's stated goal is to "grow from $75 million to $100 million in revenues by 2015". When I asked the CEO how many more people they will serve by 2015 she answered "A lot". While this may well be true, it's not a good enough answer. Measuring income is an easy metric but it does not necessarily translate to more mission. If you decide to grow to do more mission, good for you, but measure the mission as your key metric.

2. If your organization hasn't been making money each of the past three or four years, you're not ready (or really able) to grow. Nonprofits, like all other organizations soak up cash during growth. It's called working capital, and the only way nonprofits can accumulate it is by making a profit. You don't have to make money on every service (in fact, that may be a poor mission choice) but if the organization has not been profitable overall in the past few years, you don't have the funds to expand. As I tell my audiences all the time: 
"Money enables mission. Profits enable more mission."

3. The two things fast growing organizations run out of are cash and quality. We've discussed cash already, and your need for (lots of) working capital, but what about quality? Growth, particularly fast growth (including such things as mergers and partnerships) is so distracting if you haven't been through it  before that you can easily take your eye off the quality ball. Think about it this way: Is it fair to reduce the quality of service to the people who currently receive your mission support in order to grow? Of course not. So, if you are going to grown, make sure you and your staff and board are ever zealous in keeping mission quality high.

4. As you consider your growth strategy, is it a bad thing to stay small but provide really high quality? In Bo Burlingame's excellent book "Small Giants" he recounts the stories of organizations who are superior in their field  but choose to stay small to assure the long term high quality of both product and work environment for their employees. Think about it.

Understand, I have no problem with nonprofit growth as long as it is planned, well thought out, well financed, and doesn't ding overall quality of service. Note: I DO have a problem with funders always pushing nonprofits to go to scale, but you can read about that here.

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at www.missionbased.com. Check them out--they're free.

And, remember to take a look at the Mission-Based Management Blog.

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Print Resources

My recommendations for texts and other readings on Good Growth

Small Giants, Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingame

Mission-Based Management (3rd Edition) : Leading Your Nonprofit in the 21st Century, by Peter Brinckerhoff

Social Entrepreneurship: The Art of Mission-Based Venture Development, by Peter Brinckerhoff

To see my recommendations for great books for nonprofits on a variety of topics,
click on any of the links below:

To see more about any or all of my books, go to: Books by Peter Brinckerhoff

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Technology Tip 
Good Growth and  Technology!

The key to making sure your growth makes sense is to set baseline data, set goal levels (how much mission, at what level of quality) and follow the data. You know that already. But more importantly, you need to make sure that everyone sees the data in as close to real time as possible. Just posting a piece of paper with data on the bulletin board in the employee lunchroom does not cut it. Use your website, or Google Documents to share information on your goals and progress toward them to increase buy-in and a sense of community accomplishment.

Also remember to use tech for feedback on your growth plans, and to utilize the feedback abilities of your website to help in making sure quality isn't falling off as you grow, particularly if you are growing quickly.

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at www.missionbased.com. Check them out--they're free

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Training Schedule for Peter Brinckerhoff

Below you'll see the date, location, and topics of public training I'm currently scheduled to do in the next few months. For more information on a particular speaking engagement, get in touch with the contact person listed in the right hand column, or email me.

For more information on my training availability throughout the next 12-18 months, available topics, sample agendas, and fees go to www.missionbased.com/training.htm

8/2-4/11 Seattle Best Practices in Nonprofit Management NISH
Ana Rodriguez
8/11/11 Chicago Building an Entrepreneurial Board Ronald McDonald House Charities
International Conference
8/25/11 Toledo, OH Mission-Based Management The Center for Nonprofit Resources
Kate Smith
9/13/11 Richmond Mission-Based Management Virginia Association of Fund Raising Executives
Cathy Boe
9/28-29/11 Atlanta Business Development NISH
Ana Rodriguez

Marketing Tip
Good Growth and Marketing
Good news? If I see an email from you, or a tweet on your nonprofit's Twitter feed, maybe yes, maybe no. The first thought I have when I hear that some firm that I use a great deal is expanding is, "What will happen to my service, to my contact person, to the quality of what they provide me." Trust me, this is what the people you serve are thinking, as are your staff.

The old adage of "all politics is local" is true and applies here. No matter how much a staff person, volunteer, patron, or customer celebrates your plans for growth, they'll all want to know "How does this affect me?

And that's where you have to be cautious in how you announce your growth plans and how you involve people in the planning itself. Simply by including people (asking, asking, asking and then listening) in the planning process itself you can reduce a certain amount of stress. But even if you are the most inclusive nonprofit on the planet, there will still be concerns to address.

First, make sure you couch all your growth announcements in terms of mission. Instead of "WE'RE GROWING!", how about "WE'RE GOING TO SERVE MORE PEOPLE THIS YEAR THAN EVER BEFORE!" This is particularly important for staff, volunteers and donors to see.

Second, note over and over in your marketing materials that you are paying careful attention to your levels of quality. Be front and center with how you are going the extra mile for quality.

Finally, be as transparent as possible in letting people know your progress toward your goals. Not everyone you inform will care, but those that do care will really appreciate being kept in the loop.

A plan for growth can be a great marketing opportunity, if you couch it in the correct terms, focus on mission and quality and are listening carefully for conce

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at www.missionbased.com. Check them out--they're free.

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Future Topics for The Mission-Based Management Newsletter....
August Can your Nonprofit have too much money?
September Core Competence versus Core Adequacy
October Better Board - Staff Decision Making
Send me your topic suggestions at: peter@missionbased.com

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You asked, so here they are: Past Single-Topic Issues of the Mission-Based Management Newsletter...

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Jan. Business Development Strategic Planning Generation Change  Conflict of Interest Reorganizing Your Board of Directors Organizational Transparency Ethics Accountability and Transparency
Feb. Fund Raising Leadership Accountability Generation Change and Your Staff New Communications Tools Different Generational Cultures Nonprofit Innovation-1
Mar. Volunteers Core Competencies Ethics and Management Admin Costs Generation Change and Finance  Organizational Visibility and Reputation Coming out of the Recession Stronger
Apr. Financial Management Expanding to New Markets Staff Satisfaction New  Tech Ideas for Nonprofits Greening Your Nonprofit   Nonprofit Innovation Part 2
May On-line Marketing  Endowments  When Boards Cross the Management/Policy Line Generations Change and the People You Serve New Approaches to Social Entrepreneurism Nonprofit Blogs Worth Reading New Marketing Strategies
Jun. Transparency  Tech and Mission  Staff Rewards Mentoring Leadership
No Issue Published
Jul. Nonprofit Start-up  Sustainability  Saying No to Community Needs Better Cash Planning Technology Planning  Paid Staff/UnPaid Staff Evaluating Your Volunteers
Aug. Governance Ethical Benefits  Board and Non-CEO Relations Small Nonprofits Vision, Mission, Values   Is it Time To Update Your Bylaws?
Sept. Political Activities Entrepreneurship  Executive Transition Generation Change and Technology Budgeting In a Recession    Revisiting the Mission Statement No Issue Published
Oct. Attracting and Retaining Younger Staff, Board, and Volunteers Internal Communications   Advocacy Crisis Management Disaster Planning   A New Look at Social Enterprise
Nov. Outcome Measurement Board Recruitment  When Boards Fail Generation Change and Marketing Staff Recruitment & Retention   Characteristics of Successful Nonprofits (revised) The Nonprofit Marketing Cycle
Dec.  Lifelong Learning Better Budgeting  Conflict of Interest  Signs of Organizational Trouble Measuring Mission    No Issue Published


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