Essential Business Planning for Nonprofits

I believe that nonprofits and social enterprises need good business planning as much or more than the rest of us. The old mentality that left the nonprofits in their own world, unconcerned with business-like things like planning and performance, are over. Happily, most of the people I talk to in that world agree with me. The nonprofits want and need planning for the same reasons the rest of us do: develop and implement long-term strategy. Manage towards long-term objectives. Develop the right metrics. Set down tracks you can review and revise. Develop accountability. Control your destiny. Be proactive.

Just a few years ago I felt the nonprofits wanted to live in their own world. The language of standard business planning — sales, for example, and profits, and return on investment, similar business terms — was uncomfortable to them. It made me feel cynical when we’d take the standard terms in Business Plan Pro and mask them with appropriate equivalents. Sales became funding. Profit became surplus, and loss was deficit.

Change the vocabulary, but not the core. The core is essentially the same. It’s almost (with my apology to zealots) like dealing with religions, in which different groups apply different words to the same thing. We want to dress our similar realities in our own specific costumes. Whoops, that may be more than I want to take on in this post. So, back to nonprofits. Or, as Gilda Radner would say, “never mind.”

Tomorrow I’ll be presenting Essentials of Business Planning for Nonprofits at the Annual Nonprofit Organization Board Training organized by Financial Stewardship Resources. That’s at the LaSells Stewart Center on campus at Oregon State University. The occasion has me thinking about how the Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan fundamentals apply very well to planning a nonprofit organization.

Happily, in the last few years there’s been a steady increase in the sense of metrics and accountability in the world of nonprofits. At least that’s what I’m seeing, that’s what reaches me in my travels. I certainly don’t claim any expertise on the subject of nonprofits, but in my work on business planning, I do get exposed to the growing trend for social enterprises and what feels like steadily increasing demand for accountability and metrics in nonprofits. If I’m wrong on that, please tell me.

One result of this, it seems, is steadily increasing interest in doing the business planning better.

If you’re interested, you’re welcome to download my presentation handouts. I’ll be doing my presentation twice, each one an hour and 10 minutes. I plan to summarize the basic principles of plan-as-you-go business planning, with only very slight modifications for application in nonprofits.


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