Think like a business

I was out on a short strategic volunteering trip sharing ideas and techniques on audience engagement. It’s a topic that a lot of folks are focused on these days in the flavours of customer, visitor, member, alumni or donor engagement. Inevitably any discussion of this kind calls into question broader issues of organizational strategy, an exploration of who are we, what do we offer, who is our audience – and quest for a best practice or model to follow.

When asked if I knew of any successful non profits that would provide a proven structure I couldn’t say that I knew of one. The biggies are good at raising funds but that alone is neither evidence of a sound structure nor necessarily a relevant model for every other non profit.

And while a non profit can look to its peers for some ideas and learnings they might be better served to look at for profit business models and examples. As much as it may be distasteful, this is where the drive for profits, growth, competitive advantage and even survival has lead to an endless exploration and experimentation around structures and strategies.

When seeking the best practice, your sector or industry may not cover all your options. Be open minded – just because there is profit motivation doesn’t mean there isn’t a viable idea to borrow. Objectively explore and learn, then make the idea yours.


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