Huge Opportunities for Not for Profits

The Not for Profit sector is facing a challenging time when risks are plentiful.  However, there are also a number of exciting opportunities that leaders need to be thinking about. This article identifies some areas of opportunity for NFPs.  This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is a place to start for leaders who are interested acting on NFP sector opportunities.  This is a step toward fiscal sustainability.

NFPs have opportunities just like any other organization. However, many NFPs, especially smaller and mid-sized organizations are less likely to have the scope and resources to identify and exploit those opportunities. NFPs tend of focus on operations and can miss new methods, technologies or trends in the sector until those opportunities are lost.

NFP leaders need to formally discuss emerging and existing opportunity areas on a regular basis. From those discussions, they can work toward adding exploratory investigative initiatives to their strategic planning process. Ultimately, they need to develop strategies and devote the resources and attention needed to activate the organization to pursue them.

For a discussion on some important NFP Risks, click the following link: Risks That NFP Leaders Need to be Thinking About

The Opportunities

Strategic Partnerships

It always amazes me in the spring and summer to see a different 5K race every weekend each supporting individual organizations. The effort to coordinate these events must be incredible and the volume of them must lead to diminishing returns from fundraising.  If several organizations worked together to create a single event, they could significantly decrease the administrative burden and costs.

The larger event may also generate contributions larger than the sum of individual events. Bigger can attract more media attention, larger sponsors and perhaps celebrity support, all of which can result in increased contributions.

Strategic partnerships in program delivery can increase efficiency, if two NFPs are providing related or similar services in the same general location. Sharing resources between two similar programs in a common location can provide staffing flexibility and avoid staff or volunteer burnout.  It can also build a sense of community across the program delivery staffs and volunteers.


There are a number of potential benefits that can be gained when NFP organizations decide to join together.  Unfortunately, consolidations that were not done well get a lot of media attention, which creates a deep concern in NFP leaders and Boards.

The upsides of consolidations can include; efficiencies in operations and increased capacity for investments in growth and technology.  Consolidations can provide shared best practices, new resources at the staff, leadership and Board level, as well as, an expanded organizational network.

Surge Contributions

This topic has been in the news a lot lately. While you cannot predict surge contributions, be mindful when you receive them.  Surge typically comes from events that bring the NFP to the front of mind of contributors.  This can also happen when an event makes contributors believe tough times are ahead for an organization.

If at all possible, use surge contributions for strategic growth or development programs. Upgrade your social media or invest in development staff.  Add that new service that you have always wanted to have the funds for. Surge contributions allow you to prepare or to realign the organization. If there really are tough times ahead, using surge effectively could help the NFP weather the storm.


This huge group of younger folk are going to be a driving force for some time and already are contributors, volunteers, staff and leaders.  They behave differently when it comes to their NFP interactions.  Research indicates that they seem to respond to causes and tend to turn others onto causes that they care about. They are social media adept and will not respond to some tried and true fundraising methods.  Learn about them, learn how to engage them, learn how to excite them.  You will be glad you did!

Baby Boomers

This is also a large group. Folks that have been in the corporate grind for many years, many of whom are searching for meaning in what they do.  They are highly skilled, savvy and loyal to the organizations they care about.  It stuns me to hear NFPs are having trouble filling up their Boards with this pool of people out there looking for ways to help.  Find them and show them the value your organization provides.  Get them involved and listen to their advice.

Social Media

If you are reading this, you at least have some interaction with social media, congratulations!  Guess what? It’s not enough.  For a NFP, one of the most important tasks, along with delivering its program, is communicating a message that moves people to action, that convinces folks to part with their money or contribute their time.  Social media is the conduit and its reach and power is growing every day.  The old ways will not work forever.  Learn about social media, invest in it and find volunteers that can improve your social media impact and push the boundaries.

Big Bet Philanthropy

A number of foundations have been making large awards for game changing programs. The concept is that numerous small awards do not always move the needle on a large problem.  It is a risky strategy, but an incredible opportunity for NFP organizations that are willing and able to do the work needed to step up to one of these super-sized opportunities. Big bet philanthropy is not for everyone. A NFP will have to have some level of critical mass to be considered, but with the right plan and the right idea, the sky is truly the limit.

Learn about these opportunities and think strategically about the structural requirements of such a large change in scope. Consider strategic partnerships.  Get some help from experienced players.

The New Corporate Contribution – Skills

Corporations are moving away from contributing money to NFP causes. They are, instead, contributing their most important resource, their people. It’s a lot cheaper for the company and it can be a huge opportunity for the NFP.  Yes, corporate matching funds were great, but access to large volunteer pools can be much more valuable, if managed properly.

Corporations have structures that can develop good leaders and strong contributors. Find creative ways to partner with corporations to utilize their employees in your operations, as volunteers, contributors or leaders.  Find ways to develop the corporate community / NFP bond. Spend time learning about the skills that these folks bring and utilize those capabilities to augment or improve your organization. This may be a new challenge for your volunteer management organization.  Be prepared.

Big Data

Corporations have learned that value of analyzing Big Data to drive improved results.  This is done by identifying and exploiting trends in the data and developing strategies to target products and services to meet and exceed the needs of the identified customer.  In the NFP environment, Big Data can provide actionable information on donor trends as well as the changing needs of the client community. Use of Big Data in NFP is in its early days, but watch this space.  Learn the concepts and tools associated with Big Data.  Being ahead of the curve here will be a huge advantage.

Help is Out There – Access to Incredible Resources

I cannot even begin to identify all of the fantastic resources available to the NFP sector. The population of educators, consultants, Board members, lawyers, coaches, innovators, leaders and associations is unbelievable.  It is so large because there are so many folks that genuinely believe in the sector and the incredible work being done by NFP organizations.  They are truly not hard to find, if you look.

Share the task, get your leaders and Board members engaged in extending their networks into the NFP resource and support community. Some of these resources won’t be free, so look for creative ways to build funding into your budget.  Invest for fiscal sustainability. Prepare your organization for the future and ensure its long-term viability and relevance.


Bottom Line

There are incredible opportunities available for the NFP sector. NFP leaders need to embrace and exploit those opportunities to ensure that their organizations survive and thrive. This article has presented a handful of items for NFP organizations to investigate, strategize about and enact.  It is not a comprehensive list as opportunities are ever changing.  Engage with others in the sector.  Listen, learn and be willing to embrace new ideas. Identify and consider emerging trends. Keep one eye always to the future.


Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.

For more information on this or other NFP Leadership topics, follow me or connect on LinkedIn and check my blog, Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers, each week for new content.

Thanks! –mike

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