The Not-for-Profit Balancing Act

Too often, we expect not-for-profits to maintain an impossible balancing act. Save the world on a shoestring budget.

Not-for-profits tackle the challenges the for-profit sector cannot or does not address. They fund cancer research, fight for civil rights, foster education, and thousands of other missions that change the world. With so much on the line, it is tempting to expect not-for-profits to use every last resource they have to see their mission accomplished. Even if it’s at the expense of their operations. Every dollar taken away from the mission can feel like an unnecessary expense.

While this focus on the mission is fantastic, we should recognize the dangers when it becomes all-consuming. It makes it hard for not-for-profit organizations to do good work in the long term.  

As a result, we often ask the impossible from not-for-profits: “grow your mission, without growing your overhead.” At Wisely, we think of this as the divide. The not-for-profit sector is massive. In Canada, it accounts for more than 10% of our country’s GDP. In the United States, it employs more than 10% of the total workforce. Yet, most organizations face a lot of pressure to stay on the wrong side of the divide. Rather than risk crossing, they must stay small and “make do.” They’re asked to grow their impact, without investing in growth. As a result, the not-for-profit becomes defined by what it cannot do, instead of by its potential.

This seems like the wrong attitude about missions we care deeply about. As an AI-first company we’re admittedly biased when it comes to solutions. But, from our perspective AI-enabled tools are a game changer! AI lets you know how an appeal will go before you pick up the phone, visit a donor, or write an email. AI lets you identify the client with the greatest need. AI, in short, enables powerful tools at a low cost for an industry that faces so much pressure to get it right, every time, on a shoestring budget.

More broadly, it’s about taking the right attitude towards sustainable growth in our favourite sector. Whether it’s something as simple as getting labels right, rethinking overhead, new tools to fundraise easily, or something else that helps not-for-profits cross the divide with surefootedness, we’re big fans. More importantly, as donors, board members, and supporters we need to ask ourselves: “Are we comfortable with our favourite mission disappearing tomorrow, because we didn’t invest in growth today?

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