I will survive

With more than 15-years in the non-profit trenches, I’ve come to the conclusion that non-profit work is incredibly difficult and demanding. This probably explains why most of the “non-profit lifers” I know seem to have a theme song that defines their non-profit spirit and serves as a motivator during the tough times.

My non-profit theme song is none other than “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Click here to enjoy a few tracks from this iconic song.

The reason Gloria found her way into my head this morning is because of a conversation I had with a dear friend about services I’m thinking about including in the business plan for my new consulting practice. She said something that really concerned me about the state of our non-profit community. Of course, it was Gloria that used to get me through troubled times, which is why she probably returned this morning to soothe my troubled non-profit soul.

Specifically, the thing she said that still has me in its grips is that most non-profit organizations she works with or watches are in “survival mode” and they don’t seem to have the time or resources to engage in capacity building, technical assistance or training. She went further and shared her observations that non-profits are mostly engaged in budget trimming, downsizing, and complaining about the economy and their “fate”.

On a “personal note” … if this is true, then my new business will have more than a few challenges. It is a good thing I LOVE challenges!

On a “bigger picture note” … if this is true, then we (the non-profit sector) have a bumpy road ahead of us because I’ve always thought that “survival mode” was a euphemism for a slow and painful death. Lou Holtz said it best when he said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.”

So, here I am stuck with many questions in my head and thought I’d pose them to my blog subscribers and anyone listening out there:

  • Do you share this opinion that non-profits are hunkered down in survival mode and not investing in revenue growth, board development, program development and expansion?
  • If any, what technical assistance services do you see other non-profits investing their time, energy and money into?
  • Where do you think non-profits should be focusing their time, energy and resources that will give them the best chance to survive over the long-term? Board development? New donor cultivation efforts? Current donor stewardship efforts? Planned giving? Endowment building? Annual campaign development? ePhilanthropy? Strategic Planning?

Please use the comment box to weigh-in with your thoughts. Your input will help me with my business plan, but I think it can also help others get a better idea on how to “survive” during tough economic times. Because if we fail to see that we can’t “cut our way to better health,” then I will have to alter my version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to something that looks like this … click here to see this ugly alternative ending.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. I agree with your comments Erik and unfortunately, many non-profits aren’t willing to look long-term. A recent Guidestar article stated that “Investing in development led to increased returns” [for 2010]. Also, that “increased use of different fundraising vehicles, investing in fundraising staff and volunteers, and expanding communication efforts all contributed to higher amounts raised” [in 2010]. No reason to believe those same efforts wont be fruitfull this year too.

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