The simplicity of philanthropy (take-in to give-back) actually undermines non-profit strategy because it discounts some of the core fundamentals needed to actually be effective, both in generating dollars and engagement, and efficiently channeling resources. Non-profits need the following 5 things to serve their underlying missions:
1) An Evolving Mission Statement (Problem and Solution)
It seems so simple, but so many non-profits lack a clear mission statement that defines the problems they're trying to solve, and how their organizations are trying solve them. A lot of non-profits do the first part very well - they define the problem. Many do a very poor job of connecting a tangible solution (or set of solutions) that they are using to solve the problem. The mission statement is likely one of the first things that a non-profit ever develops and they let it stay static. In reality, mission statements need to evolve as the understanding of the problem becomes more clear. I don't believe in annual updates to the mission statement, but I do believe a regular assessment of the mission statement is critical.
2) A Deep Desire to Experiment
In the corporate world, a deep desire to experiment results in innovation. But innovation doesn't just happen - it's based on a fundamental understanding within the executive team and the board that it needs to experiment (pilot, prototype, whatever) to stay ahead of the competition. Sometimes that means cannibalizing yourself (e.g., iPhone ate the iPod). For non-profits, this means not sitting around and waiting for the same checks to come in year-in and year-out. It means using vehicles (people, etc.) to go out and try new things. Experimentation is about failure, and failure is about learning. The more experimentation that non-profits engage in, the more they will learn about ways to create more effective engagement.
3) A Really Good Website
Statistics continue to show that non-profit websites are the main interface with the public when it comes to messaging and story-telling. Social media is a new channel for promotion, but websites are still the anchor to selling your cause. A really good website, in my opinion, has 3 components: 1) A simple User Experience (UX) - it shouldn't take somebody 5 clicks to figure out who you are, what you do, why you're doing it, why people should care, and how others can help. 2) Updated Content - there are too many non-profits out there that have websites that have stale content. In today's world of real-time everything, if the last time you updated content was 3 months ago, you're stale...and it is painfully obvious; and, 3) Rich Content - I define rich content as stories of how the work you're doing benefits people. Don't show me a half-narrative of just the problem - show me how what you're doing is helping the problem and if possible, put numbers to it. Show me your solution is working. If your website looks like it was from the 90's, what does that say about your organization?
4) A Relevant Brand Strategy
Non-profits are no different than for-profits when it comes to branding. Branding is not just one thing - it's more than just your logo. Branding is an amalgamation of both tangible and intangible things that come together to reinforce to the world who you are and what you stand for. And just like everything else, consistent evaluation of 'brand' is something that all non-profits need to be doing to understand areas that might need to be re-calibrated.
5) Multi-Channel Giving
I define 'multi-channel giving' as multiple pillars (or avenues) in which one can give to further your cause and help address the problem. I've seen too many non-profits out there that have very narrow mechanisms for giving - a donate button and maybe 2-3 fundraising events. That's not good enough today. Every non-profit needs to create mechanisms that all people (the young, the old, the rich, the poor) can give that provides true engagement with your cause and no, that doesn't mean helping with administrative tasks. It means having the opportunity to see the problem first-hand and have a channel to contribute. The best non-profits empower their donors and that's the only way to scale - create avenues that leverage the enthusiasm of others to get out there and channel their time to take action for your cause.
The Bottom Line
These things seem so simple - almost like a checklist. It's not a checklist and treating it as one only further deepens the problem in the philanthropic world - too much going in with too little coming out. The best non-profits create a multiplier effect where everything that comes in goes out at a bigger level....and that's the true power of philanthropy. In the for-profit world, they call it 'enhancing shareholder value'.