It’s a hard truth: most non-profits struggle.
They struggle with a culture of poverty, where staff pay is low, and there’s rarely enough money to even think about trying to solve more then a small slice of the challenge they are working on.
But, encouragingly, this is finally changing. There are small but growing numbers of non-profit organizations that achieve breakout success. These courageous, entrepreneurial organizations have figured out how to grow to a size necessary to actually solve problems, not just nibble around the edges. They are doing high-impact work, with transparency and accountability.
Art with Heart is one example. Altruist Partners is proud to say we played a role in Art with Heart’s success, and they have graciously invited us to share their story.
For over 15 years, Art with Heart delivered life-changing therapy for traumatized children with beautiful, effective therapeutic workbooks, workshops, and accompanying training for counselors. Art With Heart helped children heal from deeply scarring experiences like family illness, death of a loved one, divorce, or severe trauma.
While the quality of their program was proven, it remained at a very small size. Funding was always a challenge. Year after year, they could only afford to reach about 4,000 children nationally. And that’s because staff were working tremendously long hours for very modest pay. (Sound familiar, all you non-profit people?)
And then – transformation. Great things happened. After fifteen years at this service level, Art with Heart doubled its impact in one year. After reaching 4,000 kids consistently for over a decade, they were suddenly able to reach 8,000.
And after that – another great year. After reaching 8,000, they were able to help over 15,000. In three years, the organization’s budget grew from $300,000 to nearly a $1 million. They won their first six-figure gift and recruited a number of generous corporate sponsors. Staff size doubled and compensation began to approach competitive levels. A new managing director was hired with growth experience.
Now, Art with Heart looks even further, aiming to help many more thousands of traumatized children via a network of schools, hospitals, and other partners.
How did Art with Heart achieve this level of breakout success?
It’s very simple. They stopped thinking and acting like a small non-profit. They started thinking and acting like a scalable social enterprise.
Here are the steps in a nutshell.
Step One: Measure the size of the problem. Art with Heart began its exciting pivot by asking a fundamental question: what does success look like? In practical terms, they framed the question like this: how many children do we need to help?
As they quickly discovered, there are over 85,000 children in Washington State alone who need the inexpensive, powerful healing therapy that only Art with Heart can provide. Nationally, there are over two million. Art with Heart simply decided that delivering marginal levels of help wasn’t good enough. They always had the passion, and now was the time to act on that passion. It was time to go big.
Step Two: Plan to get big enough to solve the problem. Art with Heart enjoys courageous leaders on its board and staff, and with a little help, they created and began to continuously revise a plan to grow from serving 4,000 students to 85,000 and beyond. For the first time, they created a program platform, a staffing chart, a financial projection, and a best-practices revenue growth strategy to solve the problem, not just a little piece of it.
Lesson Three: Find your investors and treat them well. For years, Art with Heart acted like most other non-profits: it wrote five-figure grant proposals for discrete initiatives and spent hundreds of hours pursuing small gifts at large fundraising events. But now, with a solid business plan, Art with Heart had a credible, compelling, comprehensive platform to pitch for larger gifts—from individuals, from foundations, and from businesses.
There’s a lot of money out there, but most non-profits are not going after it, simply because they don’t know how. And that’s a terrible loss for us all.
Art with Heart decided to think different. By aiming bigger and then credibly describing how to get there, and also by investing in the right staff and the right strategies, Art with Heart soon raised its first six-figure gift.
There’s a lot more to tell about their success. Of course they also needed to execute with focus and discipline, to learn from mistakes and continuously improve. It’s a story that’s familiar to any successful entrepreneur. However, it’s all too rare in the social sector, where entrepreneurial thinking and enterprise methodology are the exception, not the rule.
And that needs to change. So kudos to Art with Heart for continuing to capture the best thinking from both the for- and non-profit sectors to serve increasing numbers of vulnerable children.
Altruist Partners is delighted to be helping many other organizations find and achieve their own level of breakout success. More about what we do and how we can help is available at http://altruistpartners.com/
You can read more about Art with Heart here: http://artwithheart.org/
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