The Benefit of Clearly Defining your Business Lines In a Nonprofit Organization

A Tool for Nonprofit Sustainability

How clearly do you define your organization’s business lines?  What are business lines?  Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman define it in their their book, Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, as “the organization’s core activities” (pg.20).  They go on to say that “In a nonprofit, services are not always purchased or paid for by the consumer, and so some business lines may be programmatic only, whereas others may be focused on generating revenue”.   I like to think of business lines as any and all activities that an organization engages in to do the following:

  • provide services
  • offer products
  • market the organization
  • support the Mission of the organization


I use the grid at the end of this post to clearly articulate all the business lines of an organization.

When defining all of your business lines, I recommend that the organization look at all of the programs offered, the services that are given through your programs, any products that are provided (for a fee or not), any other fee-based services, all events that are planned, all marketing efforts including social media and blogs as well as any other activities that touch shareholders within and outside of the organization.

Once you have documented your business lines, determine if they are ‘core activities’ or not. Core activities should be critical for the sustainability of your organization and in-line with the mission of your organization.  You can make this a YES or NO answer or you can make a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being not in line with the Mission and 5 being completely in line with the Mission.  If a business line is not high on the ‘core’ scale, take time to discuss its purpose and role in the organization to decide if it should remain a part of the organization.

Lastly, determine the costs surrounding this business line for your organization.  How much does this business line cost the organization to execute?  How much, if any, money does this business line bring into the organization?  Fully assess how the cost analysis truly benefits the organization.  For example, social media may not provide a revenue stream to the organization, but it may be considered a ‘core’ activity as it provides marketing and education to multiple shareholders regarding the Mission of the organization which can lead to impact in the community.

Using tools such as this grid can help your organization focus its activities and support sustainability efforts.  Please feel free to reach out to me at jeanne@jeannewardconsulting.com to discuss how such tools can help your nonprofit organization.  I also encourage you to pick up a copy of Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability.


Business Line

Core Activities

Costs to Org?

$ Maker

Min $

No $

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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