Nonprofits Told They Must Be More Decisive About What to Do

By LIFT on April 10, 2013

Categories: Our Work

Succeeding in the so-called “new normal” means nonprofits need to decide what they won’t do just as much as what they will do, Massachusetts nonprofit and philanthropic leaders were told at an annual gathering yesterday in Boston.

Citing management lessons learned from the economic downturn and ensuing weak recovery, Rick Jakious, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, the state’s nonprofit trade association, said, “Ask yourself what results you want to see and whether the successes you have are related to the impact you want to have.”

Speaking to a group of about 150 at the annual State of the Sector forum hosted by Associated Grant Makers (AGM),a Boston-based, regional association of grant makers, Jakious outlined those lessons as follows:

  • Be driven by impact.
  • Become experts in your field by knowing who is also working in the same area, who succeeds and fails, and about the community served.
  • Develop focus by deciding what to do and not to do.
  • Commit to measurement and use those measures to guide program design and make decisions.
  • Collaborate and partner with those who are critical to your success.

”Timely execution and fidelity to these principles will be the differentiator,” he said, acknowledging that “execution is the hard part.”

Maicharia Weir Lytle, executive director of LIFT Boston, an anti-poverty agency, responded, saying while collaboration is a worthy goal, it requires an investment for which many nonprofits, like hers, lack resources since funds are needed to replace diminishing government resources for front-line services.

Federal and state support for nonprofits is likely to continue to diminish. Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute based in Boston, said 52% of the Massachusetts state budget is devoted to health care and projected to grow, crowding out funds for other programs.

Despite that outlook, AGM Executive Director Jeff Poulos said a recent survey of Massachusetts grant makers and grant seekers completed by his organization found that respondents are slightly optimistic about the Massachusetts economy, compared to feeling neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the national outlook.

Private and corporate philanthropy may replace some lost government funding, but Michael Durkin, present and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, said nonprofits need to figure out “how to relate to donors,” especially since donors may define success differently from nonprofits.

It means, he said, that nonprofits need to emphasize mission-focused results instead of outputs such as number of people served, community level outcomes instead of program outcomes, and engaging donors in nonprofit strategies instead of just seeking financial support.

Stergios emphasized the point, saying that nonprofits “need better peripheral vision and understand the interconnectedness of issues their immediate area of concern.”

Source: Republished with permission of