Nonprofit Start Ups: Why Passion for the Mission Isn’t Enough

A corporate community relations professional lamented about a recent request she received from someone who wants to start a nonprofit. The passion is there, she told me, but little consideration for the scope of resources, structure, and process needed to sustain a successful organization.

A few days later I spoke with a woman who runs an all-volunteer operation; she is also unpaid. She acknowledged her expertise and time are heavily invested in running the nonprofit’s mission-based programs, more so than the critical activities of strategic marketing, volunteer management and fundraising. She enjoys the work – which is her passion – and wonders about continuity if something happens to her: who will carry on the mission?

These two examples illustrate that passion for the mission or cause by itself is not enough to sustain a nonprofit organization. What’s necessary, according to nonprofit professional Jan Masaoka, is “passion for the success of the organization and the work it does.”

Mission & More

A nonprofit’s success is two-fold: having an impact through its work AND a sustainable business model that allows it to continue to make an impact. This dual bottom line is characteristic of nonprofits that need: 1) a focused mission to inspire and engage people to do something worthwhile, and 2) the resources that will support the mission. In simplified terms, no mission = no money … no money = no mission.

Passion for the mission is a given when considering starting a nonprofit. However, founders and organizers also need to address hard questions that include:

  • “Are we looking past the myths [and our passion] to the realities?”
  • “Where will we get not only the start-up funding, but also operational funding to continue thereafter?”
  • “Who [will] help fine-tune our business plan?”
  • “Do we really know what we are getting ourselves into?”

These questions are adapted from the National Council of Nonprofits that offers a wonderful resource on how to start a nonprofit with key steps to follow and additional questions for consideration.

I also recommend The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where You Are, Where You’re Going, and What to Expect When You Get There, by Judith Sharken Simon, to better understand the strategies and resources needed for nonprofit growth and development.

2 Comments

  • Heidi R. Callahan May 25, 2013 Reply

    Neither the single paragraph nor the multi-page approach is necessarily the “right” one for your organization. What is important about your mission statement is that one guiding set of ideas is articulated, understood and supported by the organization’s stakeholders, board, staff, volunteers, donors, clients, and collaborators.

    • sybil May 29, 2013 Reply

      I agree there is no “one-size-fits-all” mission statement, Heidi. Besides supporting an appropriate mission and corresponding statement, all involved in the organization need to recognize that the mission alone is not sufficient for success.

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