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The Key to Non-Profit Growth: Think like an entrepreneur

Here’s what we know. For profit companies develop a vision, strategic plan, execute it and grow.  So why shouldn’t non-profit organizations do the same? At CURE Childhood Cancer, our mission is to fund research that will lead to a cure for children’s cancer in which 16,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. So while we don’t manufacture or service gadgets, our approach for driving up revenue is built on the same business model as a for-profit company, and it works.  Over 9 years, we have grown 452% bringing passion and purpose to our goals of dispersing millions of dollars to medical research institutions and running innovative support programs to help patients and families facing the extraordinary challenges of childhood cancer.

Below are the primary ways we have embraced “entrepreneur-thinking” to exponentially grow our non-profit to the next level, getting closer to fulfilling our mission:

  1. Set real goals.  Hoping to “do better than last year” isn’t a serious goal. Do what for-profits do and identify your revenue streams, which usually include support from individuals, corporate support and special events, and set specific dollar amount goals for each stream for the next year, 3rd year and 5th year.  Put these numbers down on paper along with a strategy and tactical plan to get there clearly demonstrating to your team how serious the future is to your business.
  2. Invest in marketing.  Non-profits are under such pressure to dedicate nearly all of their resources to “mission critical activities” that it can be a difficult decision to invest in marketing.  But it is absolutely essential in order to grow.  Nonprofits must be equipped to tell their stories in an effective, professional manner in order to attract donors and volunteers who care about the organization’s mission.
  3. Show appreciation to your sponsors, donors, partners and suppliers.
    Companies who buy placements to have their names and logos published in your materials and on event signage are getting what they have paid for, but this recognition does not show your appreciation. Take time and effort to say thanks – whether you write personal, hand-written notes, send unscheduled email blasts with a special acknowledgement, or make thank you calls. No matter how much money companies make by being associated with you, every company wants to feel genuinely appreciated and recognized for their contribution to your success.
  4. Recognize and appreciate your employees.  Non-profits need committed and devoted employees who can only be sustained if nurtured by leadership.  When employees perform exceptionally well or put forth an exceptional effort, make sure you have channels to announce these achievements.  Not only will you be showing these individuals appreciation but also reminding the entire workforce that a job well done never goes unnoticed.

While non-profit organizations and for profit businesses differ in certain respects they both hold the shared vision of growth. Lessons learned from each are interchangeable as each works toward their goals of achievement and success.

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About Kristin Connor

Kristin Connor is Executive Director of CURE Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta-based national non-profit which funds research to find a cure and effective treatments for children's cancer and supports programs for patients and families fighting the disease. In 2015-2016, CURE Childhood Cancer awarded 2.5 Million in grant monies to healthcare research institutions working on new treatments leading to a cure for childhood cancer.