You have a vision. You share the vision. You gather a small group of people who seem to share the passion for your vision. Before you know it, you’ve decided to launch into a dream so many have: To start a non-profit organization to help a cause close to your heart.
Without solid leadership these entrepreneurial journeys more often than not fizzle long before anything meaningful ever happens. Exercising sound leadership requires understanding the nuances of the many challenges that face any non-profit organization particularly beyond the grass roots invention stage.
Starting a non-profit – or any business/organization for that matter – is not unlike giving birth to a child. Every parent understands that bringing a new life into the world will require different skills at every stage. Likewise it will help to know and prepare for the various stages all non-profits are likely to experience.
Familiarize Yourself with The Six Stages of Non-Profit Life Cycle
Stage 1: Conception (Idea Gestation)
Stage 2: Foundation (Infancy)
Stage 3: Progression (Adolescence)
Stage 4: Endurance (Adulthood)
Stage 5: Deterioration or Rejuvenation (Decay or Revitalization)
Stage 6: Dissolution (Death)
Most nonprofits fall into this kind of maturity model. With six distinct stages in the life cycle of a non-profit organization, the whole idea is to get beyond the first stage and to avoid the sixth stage! In order to accomplish this, it helps to have big picture view and be able to anticipate at least some of the typical stumbling blocks and challenges.
Each stage of growth requires different questions.
In the Idea Gestation or Conception stage, it’s important to honestly answer these questions: “Is the dream feasible?” “Is conceiving the formation of a nonprofit a good idea?” This stage typically can last as long as 2-3 years. Any longer and it becomes obvious that the dream truly isn’t feasible.
In the next phase, the Foundation/Infancy stage, the primary questions are: “How do we get the nonprofit started?” “How do we pull this off?” This is where your leadership skills come to the foreground and usually lasts a couple of years. Sustaining enthusiasm and passion during this timeframe is integral to success.
During the Progression stage, you’ll have to answer, “How can we build this to be viable?” “Am I establishing the right processes and protocols?” What else do I need to grow my nonprofit?” Expect this phase to last anywhere from 2 – 5 years.
You get the picture, right? Without getting into the last three phases, you can see that the life of a non-profit organization must be carefully tended. Each stage of the non-profit organization’s life comes with its own set of challenges that can overwhelm and threaten its very existence. Your ability as a leader will be challenged. You need to develop an ability to understand precisely which stage your nonprofit is currently in. A nonprofit’s chances of succeeding improve a lot when its leaders proactively assess the needs and anticipate the challenges. And I haven’t even gotten into the specific areas such as staffing, governance, administrative systems, fundraising, marketing etc… that every organization requires.
As the visionary and leader of your germinating non-profit, you will be responsible for its continual nurturance and guidance. Keeping your passion pumped up must remain at the top of your priority list. In an uncharted territory you may appreciate some guidance yourself. If you’re in the midst of deciding whether or not to start a non-profit or at any of the stages mentioned above, and could use some guidance and insight, give my office a call.