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  • Dr. Ken Thiessen

7Attributes of Growth Nonprofits

Updated: Sep 6


There are Seven Attributes that Characterize Growth Nonprofit Organizations.They are Leadership, Talent, Strategy, Execution, Funding, Stakeholders, and Systems. In this blog post, I’m going to do a deeper dive into each of these Seven Attributes and talk more about how each of these attributes help non profit leaders and nonprofit organizations respond strategically to the changing reality for every nonprofit organization in a way that can help the organization scale up its growth and impact and have even greater impact with the people they’re tasked to serve and the communities they’re seeking to make a difference in.


1.Core Leadership Functional Reality - The Executive Leadership team is authentic, healthy, and aligned.

In my work with nonprofit organizations, I’ve encountered more than one nonprofit organizations where the leadership team was anything but authentic with each other, anything but healthy as a team or individually, anything but aligned as a team. And they were shocked that there were challenges in the organization as a whole. If your organization’s Executive leadership team aren’t authentic with each other and aren’t healthy in how they work together, and aren’t aligned in terms of the overall direction of the organization, I would bet your organization has a lot of drama that is interfering with day to day operations and overall team dynamics. The most effective nonprofit organizations I’ve worked with have had Executive leadership team that were brutally honest with each other and authentic, they were healthy as a team and they were all pulling in the same direction. They were also the organizations that were having the greatest impact in serving their communities and the people they were trying to help.

2. Core Functional Reality - Leaders and managers relentlessly pursue a culture of trust, results, and accountability.

The challenge for most nonprofits is hiring the best people to staff the organization. Given that nonprofits can rarely pay their employees and executive leadership team members what the private sector pays, they often settle for the person who will take the job for the money that’s being offered .One Executive Director described it to me this way, “We hire the best of the worst” As bad as that sounds, it’s true more often than most nonprofits would like to admit. Compound that with an executive leadership team that isn’t authentic, healthy, and aligned and you have a recipe for a disengaged workforce in the organization who don’t pursue anything relentlessly other than getting out the door at the end of their day. This is where the saying, “The speed of the leader, the speed of the team.”becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. the organizations I’ve worked with that had an executive leadership that was authentic, healthy, and aligned had leaders and managers who relentlessly pursued a culture of trust, results, and accountability which is rare in most nonprofit organizations.

This is a growth area for most nonprofits specifically as it relates to results and accountability.

The only results that many nonprofits track and measure are financial. Very few non-profits have a credible process for measuring meaningful impact. Very few nonprofits board hold the executive leadership team accountable to achieve measurable results. Those organizations that have credible metrics for impact usually generate more in funding because donors, corporate sponsor and foundations know their money will be put to good use and make a significant difference in the community for the people being served through the organization’s programs and services.

3. The organization’s strategy provides a unique and valuable position in the market, and can be stated in one phrase.

Michael Porter the strategic planning guru defines Strategy this way, “ Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.”

Many nonprofits do not have a solid, well thought out strategy and a clear plan to execute that strategy with identified measurable outcomes, goals and identified accountabilities for each of the goals and the outcomes, let alone a sense of how what a given nonprofit offers by way of its programs and services is unique and different from pre-existing programs and services delivered by other nonprofit agencies in the community. That creates a significant challenge for thee executive leadership team. How can you be aligned if there’s nothing tangible to be aligned to? How can the people who work for the organization be clear on exactly what it is the organization is about and where it’s going and how what they do individually by way of their job function helps the organization get to where it wants to be

4. The organization has annual, quarterly, and personal priorities that are visible, measured, and activated with a 13-week sprint.

Many nonprofits have grand dreams and ideas of what they’d like to accomplish and the impact they’d like to have. Few are able to take their dreams from the idea stage to the implementation stage. That’s because they have no defined process to identify the organizations priorities and identify clear accountabilities for each priority and measurable outcomes for each priority. Those that might have identified the organizations priorities have no clear process for revisiting the priorities and measuring the progress towards the identified outcome. Rarely is the person who is accountable for each priority held accountable if the priority is not on track to meet the stated outcome. Most often front line employees in the organization do not know what the organizational priorities are or how their job performance contributes to the organization achieving its priorities. because there is no clear strategy for communicating the organization’s priorities from the management team to the front line employee


5. The organization has optimized cash flow and revenue, and understands the forces and levers in their control to increase financial sustainability and net income.

In the business world a business that is not profitable is not sustainable. In the world of nonprofits, profit is almost viewed as a profanity. - the word that is never to be spoken in public. But the reality is that many nonprofits are not sustainable give their current financial status and giving patterns. What further complicates their fiscal reality is that there is no plan to help the organization become sustainable long term. Relying on Government funding is not a sustainability plan because governments in every jurisdiction are being squeezed by increased demand for funding and decreasing revenue streams themselves. If the organization is dependent on donor as the primary means of support the news does not get much better. For most organization in this situation their donor base is aging and few have a plan to recruit new and younger donors to replace the older donors who are dying off and have more limited financial resources in retirement. This is where the Talent dilemma also plays a role as many nonprofit can’t afford to hire someone who can manage their development department and so development lands on the corner of someone else’s desk who is often times not trained to do development and the results are mediocre at best


6. The organization has defined the core Stakeholder, crafted a compelling promise, and systematized the Stakeholder lifecycle.

Few nonprofits have done the hard work of identifying who their core Stakeholder is. In business this is the core Customer but in the world of nonprofits, it’s the core Stakeholder. Whether it’s the clients who access their programs and services or the funders funding the program and service delivery, or the volunteers who provide valuable service to the organization. And even fewer have crafted a compelling promise or systematized the stakeholder lifecycle let alone the donor lifecycle or volunteer lifecycle. Getting clarity in this area can help the organization increase its focus and stakeholder engagement strategy. Usually there are multiple stakeholders.


7. The organization has a system to optimize core processes, change management, decision-making, and technology use.

Most nonprofits are very lax when it comes to having systems in place to optimize core processes and change management. Often the organization operates based on trust and so very few system processes are written down. The longer people have been in the organization the more the organization operates on the assumption that “everyone knows how we do things around here.” Oftentimes the Board operates on the same assumptions and the board fails to ask the tough questions of the executive leadership team which in the long run exposes the organization to significant liability and risk. Policies and procedures if they do exist, exist in name only. They are rarely reviewed and updated and oftentimes no one ensures that the policies and procedures are actually being implemented and followed as written. assuming they are written and not just oral tradition.

check out this webinar where you will be introduced to the 7 Attributes Every organizations that registers for this webinar will get a free online 7 Attributes assessment and a free debrief following the webinar.


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