I’m back from Spring break, which came right as the flurry of discussion about my blog post The Critical Alignment of Mission, Money and Competence was winding down. I really appreciate the great comments and discussion from Sean Stannard-Stockton (of the Tactical Philanthropy blog), Nathaniel Whittemore (of Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blog), Kjerstin Erickson (founder of FORGE) and Sasha Dichter (Director of Business Development for Acumen Fund), among others.
The great discussion happened and was then picked up by others (such as the Social Capital Markets blog, and the Nonprofit Assistance Fund blog) and taken further by others (Sasha kept going) because of our good friend, Twitter. For all the jokes and rolled eyes, Twitter has a tremendous amount of value. The discussion itself didn’t happen on Twitter, 140 characters can only do so much. But rather, it created a space for a thoughtful discussion about a topic that seems to be of interest to many in the social innovation space, among people who otherwise would not have connected, let alone been able to have a conversation of such depth.
I’m a fairly recent convert to Twitter (aren’t we all?) and at times it can feel like an albatross (one more thing on my very long list of things to keep up with), but if you can keep up with it, even just marginally, it can hold tremendous value. (You can follow me on Twitter @nedgington).
But what came out of this great discussion? What were the takeaways? I’m sure the battle rages on, but for me, the key points were:
- Although mission, money and core competencies must be in equal alignment in a nonprofit organization, funding must mold to mission, not vice versa.
- A sustainable revenue stream is one that is sustainable not because it is based on sale of goods or services (“earned income” is often used interchangeably with “sustainable revenue stream”, which I, like Sasha, really disagree with) but because it is based on a funding mix (whatever that may be) that can be counted on for years down the road.
- Finding a sustainable revenue engine is often about creating a context or a “market” for your work.
- Nonprofits have to be more analytical about their funding sources and how sustainable, and aligned with their mission and core competencies, they are and will continue to be.
- The funding community is best positioned to help with revenue misalignments.
I’m sure nothing was changed by this discussion. But the more that these kinds of discussions happen and the more that some of the assumptions of nonprofit operation and finance are challenged the more apt we are to restructure how nonprofits work so that great missions with great delivery can become sustainable.