Guest Columnist

The nonprofit struggle: Big ideas but no room to work

Courtesy of Maurice Davis
Courtesy of Maurice Davis

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

— Peter F. Drucker

We know change happens when we allow ourselves to push past our comfort zone to try something new. We teach our children to try new things and we consider being close-minded as a negative trait, but when it comes to solving big problems of society, we look for security.

Today more than ever, nonprofits everywhere are being challenged to show the value of their programing. It’s a simple test of logic if we have tried a solution on a problem several times and it failed. Trying the same solution is not likely to end in success.

Our nonprofits are stuck in the cycle of surviving. Think about it: If your clothes are on fire, you won’t be thinking about what you will be wearing tomorrow. Your only priority is putting out the fire. Nonprofits are seeing funders cut back on giving; they are seeing requirements go up and resources are strained.

For nonprofits to remove themselves from the cycle of survival and day-to-day operations, it takes a disruption. When a disruption is used as an opportunity to change it can lead to better efficiency, lower cost, happier employees and happier donors.

There are two types of disruptions. The first is an event like COVID-19 that forces the nonprofit to do something different. When this happens, the organization finds itself in a scramble. The nonprofit is working just to get back to normal. The event was unplanned, and it can be hard for the nonprofit to use the time to make the changes it needs.

The second and preferred is the planned disruptions. This happens when the organization realizes there is an area to improve. If you are working with a nonprofit, you can help them in this area by making small changes — for example, adding a suggestion box in the common area and on the website. While this single act will not change the organization, if the suggestions are taken seriously, it will shift the culture.

I have been working with nonprofits for more than five years, and I have seen the day-to-day cycle break down board members, employees and volunteers. It’s because of this that I founded Isooto Consulting, a nonprofit impact consulting firm. The goal of Isooto is to facilitate the change process through program efficiency and improve the experience of donors, staff and volunteers.

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I have helped several nonprofits make what seems to be small shifts that made a major impact on the organization. The increase in impact means a change in the way we as nonprofit leaders think.

By focusing on “how can I improve the nonprofit I work with?” you will start to see the things that you can improve. As volunteers, it can be as simple as helping improve a filing system. As the staff, it could be something small like making signs to remind people to turn off the lights. As a donor, it could be as easy as promoting rapid growth.

Remember, your input could be the spark that creates the change needed. The most important thing you can do for your favorite nonprofit is to speak up and be engaged.

Look for opportunities to volunteer that allow you to bring your special skills to the nonprofit. Find the jobs and tasks where your input will be most valuable and own that task. The nonprofit will thank you later.

Maurice Davis is the founder of the nonprofit consulting firm Isooto Consulting.

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