April 2, 2012


The SAC® Release

Consultants Cite What For-Profits Can Learn

From Non-Profits

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® has asked its global members to comment on what, if anything, for-profits can learn from non-profits. “Peter Drucker claimed the Girl Scouts were the best run organization in the U.S.,” says SAC® CEO Alan Weiss, PhD. “so why don’t we examine what can be learned and transferred?”

“Non-profits are very similar to for-profit organizations in many ways,” said Linda Popky, president of Redwood City, CA-based strategic marketing firm Leverage2Market Associates. “Both types of organizations have goals and objectives to meet, stakeholders to satisfy, and a product or service to offer. They also both have revenue generation goals; in the case of non-profits, this is for fundraising and to cover operating expenses rather than to show a bottom-line profit.

“While non-profits are focused around mission and promoting a worthwhile cause, just like for-profit organizations, they need to build strong value propositions, create brand awareness and develop powerful messaging to stand out above all the others in their space competing for time, money and resources.

“Many of the attention-grabbing marketing tactics used by successful companies can easily be adapted by non-profit organizations. Target marketing, demand generation, direct marketing, and social media techniques can all be used effectively to build donor bases, recruit volunteers, solicit donations, or reach government and community leaders.

“Just as importantly, non-profits can look at the mistakes and failures of their for-profit counterparts and avoid making the same mis-steps themselves,” she said.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a San Francisco Bay Area consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management consulting firm. www.workingresources.com He offers a few insights:

Dr. Brusman notes, “Melinda Gates, through her work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the developing world, sees that poverty-stricken areas do not have a lot of things we take for granted-clean surroundings, clean water, sanitation or electricity. But she is amazed by what they do have…Coke. How is Coke able to do what governments and non-profits have not come close to achieving? Melinda believes that to solve difficult and complex problems we need to look at the world’s most innovative companies.

“So what are the takeaway lessons from Coke, according to Melinda Gates? First, work with real-time data and react to it immediately. Anytime they have sales drop, they can identify the problem and fix it. With most small businesses and non-profits, alike this critical evaluation comes late. Second, tap into local entrepreneurial talent. This is a crucial aspect that social enterprises and NGOs must learn – tap local talent and knowledge. The Khan Academy is an enlightened non-profit that learned these lessons well. They’re a not-for-profit providing YouTube education videos, resources and materials with the goal of creating a free world-class education to anyone anywhere in the world. The Gates Foundation is a financial investor.”

Karen Eber Davis, of Karen Eber Davis Consulting https://www.kedconsult.com, specializes in helping non-profits to achieve sustainable income and maximize mission. She writes, “Two key areas where non-profits can learn from for-profits center around income and decision-making.

  • Recognition of Income. Some non-profits decrease their ability to provide mission outcomes by avoiding income planning, shunning the whole exercise as a prerogative of for-profits. It takes money to make mission. From businesses, non-profits can adopt a more for-profit-like approach to income, without abandoning their other bottom lines –mission outcome and community impact.
  • It’s Not Always a Democracy. Non-profits, because of their community serving nature, often make group decisions. This mode of leadership builds community. However, when its inappropriate it impedes progress and results in poor decisions, i.e., when the leader has already decided or the community lacks expertise in specialized IT services. Non-profits can improve their decision-making by learning the repertoire of decision-making options used by for-profits.”

“As a global business consultant, non-profit trade association leader and former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer, I’ve found that there is one common element to success across the board—leadership,” points out Lisa Anderson of LMA Consulting Group, Inc. in Claremont, CA. (www.lma-consultinggroup.com). “Whether you expect to make a profit or not, objectives must be achieved.  Leadership is the unique differentiator between success and failure. Undoubtedly, the most successful leaders are always looking for tips and ideas. Often times, the best advice comes from your most unlikely sources.”

“Organizations are organizations,” comments Weiss, “and everyone has a budget to stay within, goals to meet, and investors to please.”

SAC is an international association of consulting professionals who subscribe to an industry code of ethics and have provided evidence of significant consulting results among their clients. For more information, please go to http://www.consultingsociety.com, write to info@summitconsulting.com, or call 401/886-4097.