Why does ‘not for profit’ pathetically fail in business development?

October.BlogThere is a paradigm shift in accepting ‘business development’ as one of the core activities in not for profit organisations in recent days. This ‘shift’ is mainly triggered due to the reasons that funders and donors are demanding more accountability, traditional forms of funding are becoming smaller and less reliable, donors are focusing for an increasing engagement with private sector instead of not for profit entities and hence, for-profit businesses are competing with non-profits (not for profits) to serve community needs and lastly needs of community are growing in size and diversity!

In the face of this new reality, an increasing number of forward-looking non-profits are beginning to appreciate the increased revenue, focus and effectiveness that can come from adopting “for profit” business approaches. Increasingly, they are reinventing themselves as social entrepreneurs, combining “the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination.”[1]

For many not for profit organisations, this new reality is still a surprise and struggling in a confusing state of operations to survive; taking up quick-fix based remedies like reducing size of human resources, cutting cost, merging with other organisations or merging it multi-country operations into a regional operations. Will this change bring brighter days to them? Answer is clearly NO!

To survive in the present competitive development market, not-for profit companies really need to look for a systemic change in its overall process of business model, orientation and strategies. Non-profit organisations now need to carry out a serious self–reflection and identify its key strengths and services (offerings), which are unique, competitive, affordable and having a ‘brand ’ of these offerings in market. To formulate its services, accurate understanding of community and development needs to be ensured so that organisation can offer higher quality of services by focusing on what it does best, which will eventually enhance credibility with clients and funders. Needless to say that such transformation will happen in organisation only through a continuous learning and improvement.

We have several myths on pursing business development activities; such a business development is a team work, funding can be mobilised with a smart and innovative business proposal or even for many non-profit workers; business development can also be done over an informal beer meeting. These beliefs are relative and its success is also isolated, but it can’t be considered as organisational business development strategy.

In the contemporary competitive environment, non-profit business development should be built upon five key principles:

  • Identifying a set of best mission-related earned income opportunities, where fund raising will be smooth and there is a better chance of winning (it could be water, health, energy or agriculture and any other opportunities). A continuous researching on feasibility of these opportunities is crucial, based on which organisation can select the most appropriate ones to develop realistic business plans
  • Identifying the major assets and capabilities that organisation has to invest in its business development. These asset could be a team of experienced ‘warrior’ for business development or internal fund to invest for business development
  • Recognising that organisation’s vision, mission and strategic goals represent the purpose and context for business development.
  • Gaining a better understanding of the motivations and support for doing business development, both within the organisation and in peers, and, at the last
  • Leadership in the organisation, to drive business development with proven knowledge and skills. We must remember business development is a specialised job.

Sad part is that most organisations do not consider these principles, instead take up business development activities without a clear strategy and plan of actions. Outcome of such initiatives is ‘A Bad Dream’.

Keshav C Das

Senior Advisor

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation

[1] “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship” by J. Gregory Dees.

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2 thoughts on “Why does ‘not for profit’ pathetically fail in business development?

  1. This is one of the most important and relevant article I have come up with. Although there is a big lip services to promote public private partnership and self sustainability ( Which I have been hearing since last 3 decades), when it comes to implementing or using it as core guiding principle, development agencies are yet fighting to accept it. Actually I lost my job in being serious about promoting this concept ( and PPP) as people felt insecure at the idea of organizations becoming independent and the prospect of their fading chance of controlling. Wonderful article that everyone in INGOs, and development must read.

    Like

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