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Changing the Nonprofit Sector

By Nell Edgington

One of the big reasons I launched Social Velocity a few years ago was that I saw the potential for the social entrepreneurship movement to leave the nonprofit sector behind. The nonprofit sector is undercapitalized, struggling and at times inefficient, to be sure. But we cannot abandon it. Social Velocity exists to help remake, rework and re-envision our great nonprofit sector. To help it become more effective and sustainable at creating the large scale social change required to solve the mounting list of problems facing our country and our world.

But that kind of change, like any significant change, requires convincing others that there is a better way. To that end, I am often invited to speak to nonprofit boards, staff, associations, conferences, donors about new ways of doing things in the nonprofit sector. I speak on a variety of topics, many of the same topics I cover in the Social Velocity blog.

Some of the topics I can and do speak about are listed below.

I love convincing nonprofit leaders, volunteers and funders that there is a better way, that organizations and their ability to create change can be transformed. Indeed, the future of our country and our world very much depends on the ability of our social change sector to find and execute on effective solutions to social problems. If they aren’t able to perform, then ultimately we are doomed.

If you would like some help convincing your board, staff, donors, colleagues that there is a better way for the nonprofit sector, you can invite me to come speak. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. Check out more information on our Speaking Engagements, or send an email to to find out more.

Speaking Topics:

Financing not Fundraising for Social Impact
Based on our popular blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, this topic shows nonprofits a new, more effective way to fund their work. The nonprofit fundraising cycle is a vicious one. Nonprofit staff and boards are worn out with countless events, direct mail letters and grants. There is a better way. This session will explain how to finance, not fundraise for, the social impact your organization wants to achieve. Participants will learn about concrete ways to move their efforts to raise money in a totally new direction, resulting in more money flowing through the doors, a more engaged and effective board, a more energized and integrated staff and ultimately more achievement of the mission of the organization.

Getting Your Board on Board with Fundraising
A nonprofit’s board of directors is often not doing as much as they could to bring money in the door. This interactive session gives board members and nonprofit staff an understanding of how fundraising works in the nonprofit sector, where boards can be most effective, how to get the board excited and engaged in fundraising, and the concrete steps to get them moving.

An Overview of Social Innovation for Nonprofits
This session will give participants an overview of the social innovation movement and the innovative people, organizations and funding vehicles that are solving social problems in new, exciting ways. This session is full of case studies and examples that will give nonprofits a great understanding of this new movement and ideas for how they can approach their work in new ways.

Creating a Successful Fundraising Plan
Without a plan it is very difficult to raise enough money to meet your goals. This session gives participants a roadmap for creating a realistic, achievable, tactical plan for raising the money the organization needs to operate. Participants will learn the steps and begin the process for creating their own annual fundraising plan that they can take back to their board and staff.

Raising Dollars from Individuals
Individual donors are an untapped opportunity for many nonprofit organizations. Individual dollars make up 80% of the private money flowing into the sector, yet many nonprofits don’t have an active individual donor program. This session will give participants a roadmap for finding and cultivating individual donors, communicating effectively with them, engaging them in the work of the organization, and ultimately keeping them invested for the future.

Growing Nonprofit Organizations
As part of the social innovation movement there is a desire among philanthropists to grow what works. Nonprofits are beginning to look at factoral, as opposed to incremental, growth of their programs. But in order to replicate their programs, a nonprofit needs to understand what growth in the nonprofit sector looks like. This session will explore nonprofit growth case studies, discuss how you fund significant growth, and what a growth plan needs to look like.

How to Raise Growth and Capacity Capital
Growth and capacity capital are just fancy terms for the money that is often so hard for nonprofits to find: money to build their organizations. Funders traditionally like to pay for programs and direct services, rather than salaries, infrastructure, technology and systems. However, with a good funding pitch and a strategy for finding funders interested in building an organization, nonprofits can break out of the starvation cycle and start raising money to strengthen their staff, organization and infrastructure. This session will help participants do just that.

Messaging Impact
Philanthropy is changing. More and more donors are interested in funding organizations that can demonstrate impact, as opposed to those that simply talk about organizational needs. If a nonprofit can figure out how to message the impact they are having in the community, they will be much more successful attracting donor investors. This session will explore how to message impact and give concrete ways to more effectively communicate with potential investors.

Photo Credit: project_eastward

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

5 Comments to Changing the Nonprofit Sector

Jeff Moskovitz
July 19, 2011

Hi Nell,

I recently began subscribing to your blog because, quite frankly, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. This particular post resonates with me because I have spent the better part of my professional career integrating the principles of business and professional management into the culture of non-profit organizations, which have traditionally not been receptive to these concepts. Although many organizations are beginning to think like businesses(probably in response to the wake-up call they received when funding was slashed), the process is slow, at best. As you are no doubt aware, reasons for this include lack of commitment and/or follow-through from leadership, lack of know-how, inability to get buy-in from the program staff, many of whom pursued their line of work precisely to avoid business, and staff that may not be the right people to carry out these types of initiatives. Just to name a few!

My work is similar to yours, but I focus primarily on the financial area. But to me, if leadership doesn’t believe in what I bring to the table, I can’t work with the organization, because the initiative will undoubtedly fail. As you know, every organization and every board has its own personality. I’ve come across many boards of fine organizations that believe their primary job is to maintain the status quo. I sat on one of those boards for a short time. I’m starting to see incremental change in that area, but change is slow, at best.

In terms of capital, I do believe that non-profit organizations are at a severe disadvantage to their for-profit counterparts simply because they don’t have access to it. Capital generally flows to where it earns the best returns, returns the non-profit sector cannot legally provide.

A colleague of mine figured out a brilliant way to attract investor capital to the industry. We wrote a business plan that would consolidate the $400 billion highly-fragmented behavioral health care industry, which is comprised of literally thousands of organizations. In the for-profit world, these organizations would have been consolidated years ago. Our idea was to consolidate the non-profit behavioral health care industry via a non-profit holding company, a for-profit management company, a proprietary innovation for which a patent is pending, and investor capital. While retaining their identities, the individual non-profits would become more efficient via shared resources and perhaps even be able to derive synergies from other entities in the group.

We had given ourselves a specific amount of time to fund the venture, and, since we couldn’t attract funding, it was dropped. The answer from various private equity and venture capital firms was almost universal. From their perspective, it was too complex, operationally (I think that’s shorthand for, “I really don’t understand it”).

Anyway, I really think your site is great and would love to connect on something like LinkedIn to share thoughts and ideas. Your thoughts?


Nell Edgington
July 20, 2011


Thanks for your comments. I just subscribed to your blog as well, it looks great. I think it is critically important that nonprofit leaders understand finance, and I talk about that quite a bit on my blog (most emphatically here: So I think you are providing a really important service.

Change in the nonprofit sector is definitely slow, but I think that more and more leaders are realizing that our current economic situation is not a blip, but rather a resetting and that in order to keep up and compete they must dramatically shift how they do business. So I think the pace of change is increasing.

Your business idea sounds very interesting, I’m sorry to hear that you couldn’t find funding for it. I always encourage people to bootstrap, if possible, especially when funders are unwilling to invest. I’m not sure if that’s a possibility in your case, but something to investigate at least.

I’d love to connect on LinkedIn. You can find me here:

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