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The 5 Building Blocks of Nonprofit Success

By Nell Edgington

The_Open_RoadThere is a way off of the exhausting nonprofit hamster wheel of trying to do more and more with less and less. If your nonprofit can articulate the value you provide, strengthen your organization, develop a groundbreaking board, chart a strategic direction, and attract more support, you will set yourself up to achieve the holy grail of the nonprofit sector: lasting change to a social problem.

It’s a process where your nonprofit assembles 5 building blocks that each build on the next one:

  1. Articulate Your Nonprofit’s Value
    It is no longer enough for nonprofits to do “good work.” Funders, policy makers, board members, and others are increasingly demanding that nonprofits explain what value they provide a community and what change they exist to create.

  2. Strengthen Your Organization
    Once you know your value, you must build your organization. Nonprofits can no longer scrape by without the staff, infrastructure, technology and systems they need to deliver results-driven programs. They must create a plan to strengthen their organization and raise capacity capital to implement it.

  3. Develop a Groundbreaking Board
    A strong organization requires a groundbreaking board to lead it. A nonprofit’s board of directors is absolutely critical. Without their leadership, investment and excitement it will be impossible to build community support and create change. A groundbreaking board provides strategic direction, brings money in the door, connects the organization to key decision makers and ultimately leads the organization to success.

  4. Chart a Strategic Direction
    But without a clear future direction a nonprofit is living in the world of just doing good work. A nonprofit that puts together a thoughtful, comprehensive plan for the future will attract more support, increase staff and board investment, and ultimately create more social change.

  5. Attract More Support
    Once these four elements are in place, a nonprofit is ready to attract more support. In an increasingly competitive funding environment it is more important than ever that nonprofits develop a long-term financing plan for their organization. A plan that determines how the organization will bring enough money in the door to achieve their mission.

These 5 elements build on each other and, once assembled, look like this:

The consulting services I provide are tailored to assist nonprofits wherever they are in this process. From developing a theory of change, to raising capacity capital, to revamping the board, to creating a strategic plan, to developing a financing plan. I help nonprofits make the leap from just getting by to creating sustainable social impact.

In order to help you determine where you are in this process and where you need help, we have organized the Consulting page of the Social Velocity website by this 5-stage process.

But there are also nonprofits that are so new or so small that they simply aren’t ready for outside help. Over the past two years I’ve been developing a whole suite of tools for these smaller, younger nonprofits. The e-books, webinars, and step-by-step guides on our Tools page all fit into this 5-stage process as well. So you can determine where you are in the process and what you need in order to move forward.

I hope you will explore the revamped Consulting and Tools pages of the website. And let me know if you have questions.

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff

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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.

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2 Comments to The 5 Building Blocks of Nonprofit Success

December 19, 2012

I agree that those five activities are all on the path to success. I struggle with the strategic plan as #4 though. If i dont know what my objectives, strategies, tactics and metrics are then i dont know exactly how i’m strengthening the organization or who i need as a board member. My organization is a case in point, we may have to replace a staff member next June, should i get a kindergarten teacher, an early childhood development specialist or a preschool teacher? I can’t answer that with certainty until we complete our annual strategic planning review in the first quarter.

I would encourage strategic planning much earlier. Of course its a trade off, you’d like to have a great board to work with in constructing your strategic plan but you can get consultants and other stakeholders to help illuminate that problem. Strategic planning doesnt require a set of arcane skills, almost anyone can do it if they follow a good process. When it’s finished make sure you show potential new board members the plan before they join and see what parts of it they’re going to work on. My 2c.

Nell Edgington
December 19, 2012


Thanks for your thoughts. I agree it is sometimes a trade off and can be difficult to know which comes first. But I believe that strategic planning can only happen when you have a strong enough organization so that you can take a step back and think strategically, and when you have the right leadership (board and staff) in place to determine what the right strategy is. Strategic planning is not just about process. Rather it is about being able to determine what value your nonprofit provides to the community marketplace and charting a sustainable future course that builds on that in order to create change. It is not an easy thing to do. If you are interested, you might take a look at the strategic planning process I take organizations through here:

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