Sustainability Is About Evolution Not Revolution


Much has been written about the need for NFPs to embrace “a long term view with short-term action” concerning strategy, if they want to meet financial sustainability.

As well as adopting this strategic philosophy, the NFP wants to have agile and flexible; governance, culture, processes and systems as the client/customer “value proposition” which drives sustainability, is constantly changing for the NFPs current and future stakeholders.

Added to that, the Board and Management of the NFP must acknowledge that there is no such thing as perpetual sustainability and that achievement is a dynamic and robust pursuit. Sustainability is not a one-off goal or assured for good. Sustainability is about constant adaptation.

However much sense this makes to the majority of NFP Boards and Management teams, they still have to deal with today and tomorrow’s problems and are looking for solutions that will help them now as well as in the future.

The majority of NFPs are not structured to be agile and flexible. Their governance and organisational structures don’t provide this agility and flexibility and it will take some time along with leadership, risk and willingness to turn this around. The time-frame and the need to be solvent today mean that many NFP Boards and Management teams will need to make business and funding models that are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And it is not impossible to do. Here are 5 practical steps that can be implemented today by your Board and Executive Team to help you adopt an evolution strategy that will make your organisation to be sustainable in the future.

Step 1. Put your house in order.
Before starting the dynamic and robust pursuit of sustainability, it makes good sense to do this from a position of strength. Make sure that best practice governance, policy and procedures are in place as well as sound and stable financial disciplines and systems.

Step 2. Create a culture of stakeholder agility and flexibility
A key important stakeholder in achieving sustainability will be the NFPs staff. Without the support and actions of employees (paid and volunteers), the organisations’ objectives; goals and mission won’t be achieved. Staff will need to believe in the organisation’s strategy especially if it’s necessary to keep refining, altering and adjusting the strategy as time goes on. Remember creating a culture is a long term process taking anything up to 5 or even 10 years to see any significant results. So if you need to create an agile and flexible culture, there is no time to lose.

Step 3. T.E.A. (Transparency, Equality, Accountability)
Adopting the T.E.A. philosophy will show to all stakeholders the values of the organisation. However don’t overburden the organisation with irrelevant and petty rules and policies.

Step 4. Measure your success.
We all want to know that we are getting value for money. No more so than when we give our hard earned cash to Charities (Donations) Government (Taxes) and Businesses (Products & Services). Is the money we are giving making a positive difference; is it changing stakeholder behaviour for the good; is the organisation achieving what it said it would with our money? The NFP wants to be able to measure its success (mission) to be able to demonstrate to others what value it is creating with their money. There are numerous outcome/impact measurement techniques and tools available to help you with this. Chose the right one to fit your organisation’s capacity and capability.

Step 5. Start the conversation.
The mindset within NFPs is often very difficult to change especially if there isn’t an immediate financial imperative. To date, thinking and planning has been short term focused, concentrating on the premise of “what we have to deliver today, is what we do”. To achieve sustainability the organisation wants to have a laser clear focus on its mission, value proposition and business model. Therefore you want to move the internal conversation from being short term and working to longer term mission strategic outcomes.


Finally, bring all 5 steps together. By now you will have an organisation that is financially stable and robust as funders are confident with its financial management and performance through measurement. The organisation will have the right level of governance, policies and procedures in place along with a developing agile and flexible culture that will give the organisation inner confidence to be able to tackle new, perhaps uncomfortable but challenging options. This inner confidence will allow the organisation the opportunity of continually exploring new ways of working including seeking out networks and partnerships. Familiarity with the agile and flexible process will be self-perpetuating providing the organisation with the tools, culture and values to achieve sustainability.

By Walter Edgar : Walter is a Cause & Effective Associate and a business advisor who can help organisations to find real business problems/opportunities which are impacting on sustainability. Walter can be contacted here

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s