In order to survive, nonprofit organizations must commit to both a sense of mission and business sense.

Pop quiz: Recite your company’s mission statement. Seriously, think about it for minute and try to recall your company’s mission statement.

Now take a moment to find the actual verbiage. Your company website is a good place to start, or perhaps the employee orientation packet you stuffed away in a drawer years ago. How did you do? Hopefully most of you hit a few key words, phrases or core values—you got the “gist” of where your company’s mission is focused. A select few probably nailed it verbatim, and conversely, there is likely an equal number asking, “Our organization has a mission statement?”

In recent decades, businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes have gone to great efforts to develop company-driven mission and vision statements. Once firmly established, these declarations tend to be highlighted in prominent places within the workplace and on the company website. This, in and of itself, is a great thing, and an approach which should be encouraged. However, is a mission statement the same as a sense of mission? A mission statement should include intentions regarding business integrity, as well as “true mission.”

For nonprofit organizations, a true sense of mission is vitally important, and as result, many in the nonprofit sector possess an unwavering dedication to the causes and people they serve. This is certainly noble and honorable. However, nonprofits must remember that they cannot fulfill goals simply through heart and soul. Strong leadership and effective management are just as vital. Nonprofit organizations need a steadfast commitment to both a sense of mission and sense of business in order to survive.

To be successful, nonprofits must operate with great discipline and effectiveness while also maintaining their philanthropic sense of mission. Unfortunately, good intentions are no longer enough. Whether fair or unfair, people expect more from nonprofits. Deep-seated trust is required when people donate their hard-earned resources, and maintaining this trust must be at the top of mind in every business decision nonprofits make. Sadly, one cannot talk about the use of for-profit business tactics in nonprofit organizations for very long before the issue of ethics arises. The inappropriate actions of a select few can tarnish the public perception for all nonprofits. Managing a nonprofit organization requires the best business practices, but it is imperative such tactics are completed with integrity and the sense of mission at the forefront.

Growth of the Nonprofit Sector
Nonprofits need to apply businesslike, bottom-line mindsets to maintain their credibility with increasingly skeptical and results-oriented donors. There is no other viable option if nonprofit organizations are to survive during the unprecedented growth of the nonprofit sector. While donations to nonprofits continue to rise, so do the number of nonprofit organizations in existence. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States, up nearly 30 percent over the last 15 years. The Internet has fueled growth because it is easier for new organizations to reach out to donors and easier for donors to give. Moreover, the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University estimates nearly two thirds of all American households donate to charity. So how do nonprofits survive in the increasingly competitive world of philanthropic giving?

They thrive by finding the perfect balance between a sense of business and their sense of mission. Billions of dollars pouring into charities and nonprofit organizations across the country have created enormous opportunities. However, more opportunity means more accountability. Intense media, government and consumer scrutiny means nonprofits must become more disciplined, more efficient and more effective in delivery of services and programs. To a use business term, nonprofits must be able to demonstrate a return on investment for their donors.

In the for-profit world, it is clear how success is measured: through profit. It is more difficult to measure success in the nonprofit sector because there are inadequate definitions of what constitutes success. Historically, there has been less of a universal way to provide an apples-to-apples comparison between organizations. Today, more and more nonprofit organizations are moving to outcome-based performance measurements, and consequently, are able to provide community-wide results to their volunteer and donor base. While financial returns are a perfectly acceptable measure of performance for most businesses, nonprofit organizations must be assessed relative to mission-driven objectives and financial soundness.

Nonprofits in Our Community
We are fortunate to live in a community where an abundance of nonprofit organizations exist, all of which, in their own unique ways, are focused on the mission of improving the lives of people in central Illinois. Moreover, the generosity of individuals and businesses in our community is, at times, staggering. The 2012 Heart of Illinois United Way campaign resulted in a record-setting year of contributions, which will be committed to vital health and human service programs in the counties in which we live and work. Such an investment of resources is a true testament to the compassionate, giving nature of our community. I undoubtedly feel other nonprofit organizations share similar sentiments in regard to their donors and committed volunteers. We live in an extraordinarily generous place.

While a mission statement is not the same as a true sense of mission, they both serve nonprofit organizations well. The former is an effective, and many times, necessary reminder, and the latter a deeply-felt conviction. The evolution necessary to maintain a nonprofit in a performance-based world must begin with a mission statement that includes both mission and business elements. Ideally, the mission statement reminds nonprofit leaders to conduct and manage their organizations in ways that demonstrate the profound sense of mission. In order to be sustainable, nonprofits need a cause that resonates with volunteers and donors, and by combining their particular cause with an unwavering commitment to a sense of business, nonprofit managers will ensure their organization thrives for years to come. iBi