What Makes a Nonprofit Successful?

Whether you plan on contributing to a nonprofit organization, or even starting one of your own, it is helpful to understand exactly what it is that makes a nonprofit really successful. Here are a few things to look for when deciding where to contribute your resources, or what to keep in mind when you’re organizing to make a change.


Maintaining a transparent organization is much easier said than done. Aspects of the day-to-day can be mired in bureaucracy, and before you know it, details that interested parties may want to know are left on the table. But there is a real risk in not being able to be completely upfront with how you run your nonprofit. If something goes awry and the public finds out, you may find yourself trying to save face in order to assuage the disbelief of your competitors. This is an area in which real world examples serve as our best lessons. For instance, let’s consider The Red Cross. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the well-known organization used about $500 million dollars to build just six houses during the Haitian relief effort. At over $80 million a house, that mismanagement soared to astronomical heights. There were many reasons for this, but a running theme seems to be that “things were lost in the shuffle”. True, some of that money had to be used in order to pay for food and medical facilities, but if the organization held a more transparent book, we may have seen the fallout unfold rather differently.

Effective Leadership

This goes for any company, nonprofits included. Without good leadership a nonprofit will be without direction, which is an invitation for all sorts of disorganized mishaps. Idealist Careers describes the “new nonprofit leader”, one who has what it takes to bring nonprofit work into the future. The ideal skill set is as follows:

  • Moves to impact: Creates a visionary plan beyond the the usual vagaries of “do social good”.
  • Finances the work: Understands the importance of connecting with donors and using capital to reach the end goal.
  • Refuses to play nice: Isn’t afraid to get real with leadership and employees they feel hold the company back.
  • Looks outside: Grasps the concept that the nonprofit must integrate itself with the society, and respond to markets appropriately.
  • Gets Social: Isn’t afraid of criticism or suggestions from the outside.
  • Asks hard questions: The hardest questions push you to the max and help you realize the next towards the ultimate vision.

Ability to Adapt

A nonprofit must not be stiff. Writing for Fast Company, authors Eslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant emphasize the need for a good nonprofit to change with the times. When things look like they’re bottoming out, it should be able to go back to the drawing board and rethink how it wants to reach success. Most importantly, though, it is able to learn and grow from previous mistakes and stumbling blocks.

Engages with Community

The best nonprofits don’t remain locked in their ivory tower. Again, ideas are amazing, but are nothing without action. A good organization looks to the community for feedback and involvement. After all, are you more likely to contribute or think favorably with a group that hovers in the back of your mind? Or with one that makes an honest, concerted effort to get in front of you and capture your attention with their noble goals?


Ross Sanner

Ross Sanner is the Founder and CEO of Think Growth Consulting LLC, a leading company that guides both nonprofit and for-profit businesses through smart, expansive investment and growth opportunities.

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