Hey Old Folks: Think like a startup!

March 11, 2008

Posted in General and Management.

The number of new non-profits is growing at a phenomenal rate. From 1996 to 2006, the number of organizations went from 1 million to 1.4 million! source

Meanwhile, older organizations are facing new challenges and often struggle to survive. Competition for funding is fierce – donors and customers have more options than ever before.

Think small

As many consultants will tell a big company, a big organization needs to think more like a startup. Startups don’t have the baggage to overcome. Startups take risks. Startups can ask the hard questions because they don’t have any of the answers.

The challenge to you is to build a startup culture. Don’t act big, even if you are. Empower the individuals in your organization to make decisions. Inspire your staff to take ownership in their work by tying their successes to the success of the entire organization. Work hard and celebrate every victory.

Think new

Chances are, your organization does a lot of things based on history, not on logical decisions. From your board structures to your approach to fundraising, you’re probably doing what you always did. And even though that might have worked well at one time, it may not be working well now.

To put it another way: if the world has changed and you haven’t, can you really be surprised that you are struggling?

It’s not easy, but it’s necessary—for every decision you make, ask yourself why you are doing it.

Think about the hard stuff

Are your programs really that effective? Are your staff in the right places? Have you built your organization around your customers’ and donors’ needs, or have they changed without you?

As Jim Collins says, you must confront the brutal facts.

But don’t forget the old

There’s a lot to learn from the startup approach, but that doesn’t mean you throw everything out the window. Your organization’s history is an asset. Remember the lessons learned. Use the equity you’ve built (your brand, your financial stability, your network) to get a big leg up on the small, new non-profits that don’t have any of those things.

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