Run Your Charity like a Business!

Run Your Charity like a Business!

Do you want to make more money? Then stop running your charity like a charity and start running it more like a business. This topic became front and centre with a friend with whom I had coffee. He was sitting on a board for an organization that helped new Canadians with English, and reading and family engagement in this area. He had just quit the board. Here is his story.

When this fellow joined the board, he was highly enthusiastic. He loved the cause and outcomes. At one board meeting, they talked about the number of people/families they reached and how it seemed low. So, he asked some basic business (not rocket science, but basic business) questions. He asked who their target audience was to help. He asked when the users of the services were available to get this help. He asked how they were marketing the services and accessibility to these people. What he learned (no great surprise) was that the audience was new Canadians with young families, with both parents working while typically living in an apartment. Both parents were unavailable during the day, only evenings and weekends. All their marketing was drawing lots of inquiries, but little sign-up for services. My friend then asked the operating hours of the organization and was told that it was Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. He nearly fell off his chair! He asked why they would operate during those hours when the clients could not attend? He was told they were an “educational” organization, and as a result, were in the Public School Board offices. They rented (yes, rented and paid full rental rates for the space) there because of their “tie to education.” So my friend said, “Why don’t you just open from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays? He was told that they would have to pay extra for custodial and security services, which they could not afford! I will leave it there!

He worked with this group for several months finding space in another building at half the rent and no additional charges for being open evenings and weekends. They said they were an “educational” organization and should be in the school board building. How can you run a successful business (charity or otherwise) when you are not available to your clients at the times they need you or can come to your premises? Ugh!

Too often, board members leave their business brains at the door when they enter a non-profit board room. They forget everything they would do in business and become emotional when they sit around the charity board table. You are on these boards because of your knowledge and expertise. Use it!!

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  1. Brent! Thanks for sharing this story and highlighting an all too common theme with nonprofits. We all get ‘stuck’ sometimes and this reminder for us all is a good one! 🙏🏻

    • Rhonda,
      Thanks for reading and sharing. You are so right, reminders are essential. It was great to see you at the AFP Edmonton Christmas mixer. Let’s look to catch up when I am in Edmonton next week. Just drop me and email at brent and we can set up some time.

  2. I am constantly amazed when I get an opportunity to chat with a Board and find some very successful entrepreneurs that don’t understand that charities are really marketing products. Those products are their programs and community involvement. I don’t really believe that too many charities fully understand that when a Major Gift officer goes out s/he must be able to ascertain what products a potential donor wants to invest in if s/he expects to be successful. And the “products” have to be sanctioned and supported by the Board.

    • John,

      You nailed it. I really love that example and the lack of awareness and knowledge that some Board members have.

      Thanks for reading the TMC and your comment.


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