Have you ever thought about what the concept “non-profit” really means? Our entire sector is defined by “lack” — what we don’t have … profit.
It’s confusing, because the fact is, we are supposed to make a profit. It’s simply that we reinvest the “profit” in programs and services instead of distributing it back to investors.
In this interview with Nick Fellers, co-founder of For Impact and President of The Suddes Group, we discuss the importance of focusing on the impact you make.
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Watch the full interview above or read the highlights below.
What is For Impact?
AE: Let’s talk about For Impact. Tell me where it comes from.
NF: It started off as a change in vocabulary. I was very lucky to be mentored by a guy named Tom Suddes who founded our organization in ’83. We raise money, and we were always trying to transform the culture of the organization so they can continue to do this again and again. And he had this vocabulary change. It was about changing our mindset. And one of the things in there was changing from the words “not for profit” to “for impact.”
There’s a lot of implications behind that and reasons. It’s about changing our story, changing our words and everything else. That kind of took off and it has really become an umbrella for everything we’re trying to teach.
AE: I’m actually surprised it hasn’t caught on even more. It is the most amazing mind-shift when you’re talking about a non for profit because I’m constantly telling boards that it’s not about for profit or not for profit — you have to operate in the black. The goal is not to operate in the negative. What you’re really trying to do is have an impact. It’s brilliant, and I want to help you spread the word and really change the vocabulary in our sector.
NF: I would say that I think it has caught on. Now whether or not the actual semantic words of not for profit, for impact … what we’ve seen in the last 10 year is an enormous conversation open up about vocabulary. You see a lot of these conversations around social benefit.
All we really want people to do is to stop defining themselves in the negative, to stop thinking of themselves in the negative, and then begin to focus on the impact.
Using Impact to Work Toward Your Mission
AE: Let’s talk about how nonprofits are using this “for impact” to improve and work towards their missions.
NF: One of the things we’re trying to do is to get people to think about why they exist. Do we exist to not make any money? Clearly not.
Think about how many times we’ve all seen a strategic plan that looks at goals and a plan, but we never stop in the process and ask, what are we really trying to do here? We use this as a way to set up that conversation. What impact are we trying to have?
Too many nonprofits exist to exist. It allows us to break out of that, to be intentional.
AE: Those are such good points. First of all, the sector is defined by the money, or the lack of money.
NF: By the IRS … and why would we let the IRS define us?
AE: You’re right … people have to get back to their mission. And figure out, do we still need to exist?
Someone brought up the issue of overhead and operating costs and how they were so proud that they had low operating costs. And I thought, that doesn’t have anything to do with results. I’m not going to give to an organization that has low operating costs if they have no impact.
NF: That whole thing goes toward being able to communicate that impact. Frankly, I think a lot of times, we’re picking the wrong fight … having the wrong dialogue. There are typically a lot of organizations that are not messaging around their impact. They are trying to message efficiency around income.
How to Communicate Your Impact Effectively
AE: If nonprofits want to take some concrete steps in the next weeks, months, or year, what would you have them to do communicate more effectively?
NF: The first thing I would do is a simple audit of everything to see what messaging are we putting out there? Is it about a table sponsorship? Begin to look at all of your messaging.
The second thing is to look at your reason for existence and say, toward what end?
The third thing is to really be deliberate about and always think about how we can begin with the impact.
We had someone who had a board meeting and he said [they usually] begin board meetings with review of minutes and financials. They all do. It was just a simple thing for him. So at the beginning of one meeting he has someone stand up who had been impacted by the work. All of a sudden, you have an engaged board. Everybody remembers why they’re there. These are simple things, but we don’t do them.
AE: A lot of people call them a “mission moment.” Putting it right at the beginning of the board meeting, whether it’s a testimonial, reading a letter, or having a client come speak, but reminding the board members why they’re there. It’s not just about minutes and financials.
Keep it Simple
Any final thoughts?
NF: At the end of the day, it’s just keeping it simple. Impact drives income. Share the story around your impact, and present them the opportunity to help.
Watch the full interview for more words of wisdom from Nick.
What “ah ha” moments did you have from Nick’s advice? How are you communicating impact? Share your thoughts in the comments.