Actionable Guide to Becoming an Effective Nonprofit

Nonprofits come in all sizes: big, small, hyper-local, nation-wide. Some are more effective and impactful than others in achieving their mission. Regardless of the scope or scale of a nonprofit, high-performing nonprofits are drivers of social change. But what does it take to become a high-performing nonprofit? What essential elements are key to long-term sustainability? What are these “high-performing” organizations getting right and how can we replicate success?

Mission Capital wanted to learn more about the critical components that all nonprofits need to successfully deliver on their mission. We spent the last few years diving deep in to these questions. We reviewed more than a dozen nonprofit frameworks and assessment tools developed by foundations, consultants and researchers from across the country. We also drew from our own 15-year experience consulting with area nonprofits. The findings come together in the Nonprofit Effectiveness Framework, six elements that are critical to all organizations, regardless of mission, size, or scope.

This nonprofit effectiveness framework cover topics such as leadership, operations and collaborations. You can read a high-level overview of the elements and accompanying resources to guide your understanding, as well as download the full report. In the last few months, we have been rolling out this framework and garnering a community-wide discussion on practical applications.

Assess your current reality.

We recently held members-only meetings for nonprofit leaders to work through elements of the Effectiveness Framework. Nonprofit leaders benchmarked their organization against the elements to identify key organizational strengths, as well as areas for improvement. We’re also gathering baseline data and developing an online tool that organizations can use to assess their current capacity. In the meantime, download the full Effectiveness Framework Guide and take some time to review the elements.

Action step: Bring together key leaders from your organization to identify 1-2 elements that your organization can be more intentional about, and actively work toward action steps in those areas. Also be sure to identify successes and areas where you really excel. How are those celebrated in your organization? How can you shine a light on those successes in the community and in your fundraising efforts?

Involve others in the conversation.

The in-person meetings with other nonprofit leaders we’ve been holding have provided a great opportunity for Mission Capital members to learn with and from peers. Talking through the framework can provide useful insight into the way you work. We would encourage you to consider ways you might share the framework within your own organization, with peer organizations, funders, board members and others who know and support your organization.

Action step: Bring these high-level elements to a board meeting, or work through one element at a time during a monthly meeting with staff. Which staff members can take ownership over certain elements? How can the board support capacity building?

Take a hard look.

Nonprofits are sometimes quick to breeze through areas of the framework that they initially consider successes. Don’t fall for this misstep! Now is the time to take a hard look at understanding and achieving organizational effectiveness. For example, during one workshop on Clarity of Purpose (the element which focuses on how nonprofits define and align their work and impact), many nonprofit leaders noted that they have a strategic plan for their organization. While this is an important first step, we learned that many organizations struggle to fully integrate their plan into the day-to-day work of the organization. Without this integration, a strategic plan will be much less useful.

Action step: Dig deeper into the sub-elements in the Effectiveness Framework Guide, being critical of areas that on the surface may seem to be working well. If after reviewing the framework you find that your organization needs to more comprehensively assess its current capacity and challenges, the Mission Capital Diagnostic may be particularly beneficial. This in-depth consultant-led process will give you both a clear picture of how your organization operates, along with key recommendations to build the best organization possible.

We hope the Nonprofit Effectiveness Framework serves as a useful spring board for your organization to critically (but constructively) achieve better outcomes. Our goal is that these elements provide an actionable guide, resulting in stronger nonprofits and in turn stronger communities.

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