Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nonprofits Benefit by Aligning Assets with Mission

There are a few pluses to running a nonprofit a bit like a business. As the Triple Bottom Line gains momentum, nonprofits have an opportunity to demonstrate to Board members and the community how they, too, consider human capital, social capital and financial capital when making decisions.

When nonprofits live and breathe in a world of limited assets, fighting for scraps, it can be tough not to give over automatically to the desire for financial returns that maximize the minimum. Yet, nonprofits who step back and work from a platform of mission-based decision-making can make inroads and great strides that produce higher 'triple returns.'

Some small steps can make a big difference in starting down that road. Here are four to consider:

1. Be clear about your purpose. A clear mission makes for better decisions and keeps you from being too easily swayed by promises of deep pockets or other opportunities. A good facilitator can help you articulate that mission and a community loan fund can help with technical assistance that uses it to build your financial capacity.

2. Document your commitments. Write down the filters that are important to your organization. Formalize it into a vendor selection policy or an investment policy. Share it with employees, funders and other stakeholders to demonstrate your commitment and create an opportunity to talk with them about the issues important to your organization.

3. Audit your assets. Take stock of the human, programmatic and financial assets of your organization. Think about the vendors with whom you do business and look for ones that support your values. If you offer retirement plans for your employees, consider including a socially responsible investing option.

4. Share your story (and share it again). A once-a-year plug is not going to do it. Remind people on a recurring basis about the value of walking the socially responsible talk. Help people who live it on a daily basis remember how to leverage their assets in a mission-driven way.

Thanks to Salli Martyniak, Forward Community Investments, and Steve Zahn-Cantelmo, AG Edwards, for their conversations on this topic.

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