Mature Nonprofits Face Changing Priorities

There is a typical, standard life cycle that successful nonprofits follow. An early stage precedes a growth period that lasts several years, and is then followed by maturity. The maturity (or governance) stage usually begins when an organization reached its eighth year of existence. By that time, the nonprofit has established its core programs and earned a solid reputation in the community.

However, an organization cannot afford to rest on its laurels. In fact, not-for-profits in the maturity stage often reach a crucial fork in the road. The next step can either lead to renewal — or stagnation and eventual decline.

Shift to Financial Sustainability

If you are a leader of a nonprofit in the mature stage, sustainability should be your immediate goal. At this stage, your organization has a good handle on its current resources and is adept at anticipating its needs. Financially, it means maintaining enough cash on hand to support daily operations, as well as having adequate operating reserves. This may be the time to initiate planned giving and endowment efforts to sustain programs into the future.

Your organization will likely require more funds than it ever previously needed. However, a nonprofit in this stage must be careful of “mission drift,” which occurs when an organization starts to make compromises to generate funds instead of sticking to its mission.

At this point, organizations often see more program and operational coordination, as well as increased formal planning and communications. Your nonprofit may explore possible alliances with other organizations. These affiliations could potentially extend your organization’s impact and increase its financial stability. Alliances could also help reinforce your organization’s mission focus and prevent your nonprofit from getting bogged down by policy and procedures.

The Mature Board of Directors

Adding members to your board is another method to increase your organization’s financial stability. A mature nonprofit’s brand identity may enable it to attract more wealthy, prestigious and well-connected members. Ideally, these board members will offer more than just money, providing expertise in a certain area or a strong personal commitment to the organization’s mission.

As your executive director and staff focus more on operations, your board should take a greater leadership role by setting direction and strategic policy. However, the board could become more conservative, taking less risk. (The boards of younger nonprofits tend to be more entrepreneurial, willing to take more risks because less is at stake.)

Program Considerations

In regards to programming, mature nonprofits should be careful of being lulled into a sense of complacency. It’s critical to regularly review your organization’s programming, including the curriculum or content, for relevance and maximum effectiveness. The primary focus of your strategic plan should be on long range success and outlining new opportunities.

Surveys can be an effective method of keeping current on your constituents’ needs and interests, which could change over time. The results might lead to significant changes. One literacy nonprofit, for instance, stayed relevant in its community by scaling back its literacy programming and increasing its offerings of English as a second language services.

Celebrate But Strive

Considering today’s competitive environment, a nonprofit that reaches the maturity stage has reason to celebrate. To continue to be able to accomplish its mission, your organization must be strategic in financial and program planning.

© 2017

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