5 Areas of Nonprofit Sustainability

How do you think about nonprofit sustainability?

There are many ways to think about sustainability.  Is our lifestyle sustainable?  Do we maintain a sustainable environment?  Is my company sustainable?  How can I ensure that the nonprofit that I want to support financially is sustainable?   I’d like to discuss nonprofit sustainability and different categories that generate a nonprofit organization’s ability to be sustainable.

Let’s first look at a definition.  Wikipedia has a great definition of sustainability:  They say it is “The capacity to endure”.  So let’s think about what ingredients are needed to ensure that a nonprofit endures.  Money is important.  But it’s much more than that.   It’s about the leadership as well.  Additionally, when strong and successful leaders put effective succession planning into place, this also ensures that a nonprofit can endure.    What about the services and other tools that are used to assist the population that the organization was created to serve?  And no organization will endure if they are not monitoring and changing as needed to meet their vision.

Five categories of a nonprofit organization’s sustainability are:

  • Financial Strength and Security

It is important to have continuous revenue as well as revenue held aside (for a rainy day).  As per The Foundation Center’s Grant Space , organizations should determine their own reserve amount, but a commonly used figure is 3-6 months’ worth of expenses.  They also state, “To be a viable operating reserve, there should be a board agreement and policy about how reserve funds can be used: When they can be used, who is authorized to use them, and how this is reported to the board”.

  • Great Leadership

As per The Foundation Center, a study conducted by TCC Group shows that “effective leadership is the strongest predictor of nonprofit sustainability”.   I also believe that a critical aspect of such leadership is mentoring the next generation of leaders.  Organizations should ensure that they have leaders that will lead with the same views and culture that has proven to be successful (while bringing their own strengths and innovations to the organization) when the current leaders leave.

  • Solid Programming

If a nonprofit organization is not fulfilling a critical need in the community, there will soon be no need for it.  As long as the need is there, it is important to ensure that the program is effectively providing services and/or products to meet the needs of their population.

  • Technology and Resources

We do not function in a vacuum.  These days we need to collaborate, utilize resources and make use of all the relevant technology available to a nonprofit that is affordable for that nonprofit.

  • Monitoring and Adaptive Capacity

If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know if you got there?  It is critical to identify key performance indicators and then monitor your outcomes to determine if your nonprofit is reaching its goals regarding mission outputs and vision outcomes.  If your nonprofit is not meeting outcomes expectations, make changes!

Where does your organization fall in each of the above categories?


Photo credit to: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Jeanne Ward is a Consultant and Personal Strategist who brings her knowledge of psychology, strategy and personal fulfillment to her current work. Jeanne started her career by helping mentally ill inmates to ‘get their lives back on track’ as they integrated back into society from jail in NYC. She leveraged this experience with a Social Work degree to manage teams who were supporting people trying to move back into the workforce. She later lived in Atlanta, GA and Frankfurt, Germany where she began consulting with nonprofit organizations to guide them on their strategy, volunteer development, and organizational development as well as to support the development of their leaders and board of directors. After the jolt of a divorce, Jeanne found herself doing a lot of soul-searching. Digging deep, she arrived at a new-found appreciation for herself and the world around her. This journey taught her that when we start with improving ourselves, the benefits multiply. Jeanne realized that her strengths of strategic thinking, relationship building, and implementation planning could be combined into her ongoing passion of personal leadership. Hence, her personal strategy work was born. Jeanne helps men and women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are fed up with their corporate jobs to create fulfilling professional and personal lives through the development of a personal strategic plan. This work ensures that her clients identify their professional and personal goals as well as create a plan to make those goals a reality. Jeanne is also the Executive Director of the Atlanta Road Trotters Kid’s Running Club, a nonprofit organization that provides a platform for children to build a foundation of running health and fitness which leads to a better connection to the organized running community as well as a strong foundation of Discipline, Self-Esteem, Respect and Team Work. She has also co-authored a workbook on networking, founded and organized the National Association of Social Workers-Georgia-sponsored ‘Social Service Career Network’ and organized a summit for the National Alliance for Mentally Ill attended by over 100 organizations from 6 Atlanta counties. Previously, she sat on the board of NASW GA as their Secretary as well as on the board of NAMI GA/DeKalb as their Co-President, was a senior consultant for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and helped to run a capital campaign for an independent school. Jeanne has an MSW from Hunter School of Social Work (City University of New York), an MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York) and a BA in Psychology from Emory University. Jeanne lives in Atlanta with her ten-year-old son.

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