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Growing the Nonprofit in a Slow-Growth Economy

While the housing market in the USA continues to seek its trough, and foreclosure is still a trend, it’s very hard to grasp the idea that the economy is on the mend. Tell it to the Marines. Human service needs are on the incline, arts organizations (small to mid-size) struggle to raise the dough, and healthcare reform is being challenged leaving providers up a tree.

How does a respectable nonprofit organization with a well-thought out mission and a likeable program continue to attract the where-with-all to grow?  We know it’s deadly to become complacent, to wait for the big tide change that will come any….year now. What is a nonprofit to do?

I, for one, really like the thinking described in The New Work of Nonprofit Boards by Taylor, Chait, and Holland. This “new work” I believe, is a key to addressing the environment each nonprofit is working in. This is the first step in getting resolution that is appropriate to the unique situation facing any nonprofit organization .  The authors talk about Generative Thinking. This is a time set aside at the board meeting to look ahead, to what’s on the horizon that is challenging the mission and to consider best ways to address the challenges.

For an arts organization, the chair of the board might challenge two or three members to do some research of similar organizations in similar-size communities to examine what they are doing and how the public is responding.  The human service organization might take a look at board make-up and determine if there is new thinking around marketing that might be good to know and then apply to the work ahead. The health care center might see a related service niche (transportation or day care) that’s keeping clients from accessing services; collaboration with another community nonprofit might attract a foundation interested in fostering strategic alliances among nonprofits.

The central idea is to set aside board meeting time for some creative thinking based in fact.  So new approaches can be developed that are rooted in data.  This is not brain-storming.  Not that I’m agnostic about brain-storming, but I do prefer that nonprofits I’m working with are rooting their decision-making in reality; not on a fabulous idea of one board member that has no basis in fact, or may just not be appropriate for the particular culture of this nonprofit.

Generative Thinking.  A good place to start to find working answers to stimulating some growth in an economy sadly lacking in that commodity.

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