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  • Writer's pictureThe MSG Team

Your Nonprofit Aircraft . . . Can It Fly?

Nothing is more exciting than when a nonprofit organization starts to grow. More growth usually means more funding, for more clients, for more difference making. The question usually ends up being . . . how and when do you make that investment in growth?

Far too often organizations grow based on their perceived need, and then end up faltering because they grew too fast. In the nonprofit world, when that happens, it's not usually due to the new idea or program growth (although that can happen) but more likely it's due to the lack of funding to support the concept.

The plane has been used as an analogy for organizational success, by many. There are even several models of what that looks like. Here is a basic definition which we would like to share with you to consider.

Cockpit - This represents leadership. Do you have the right people, in the right seats, doing the right thing? The plane can't go anywhere if you don't have a pilot who knows what they are doing.

Wings - This represents your offerings. Does your nonprofit offer programs which are needed and impactful? If you don't have programs that fit those categories, then you are not going to get very far.

Body - This represents your overhead and operations. This is the part of the plane that can really make or break an organization during growth. Too lean and your flight is going to be all over the place. Too big and your flight is not going to be sustainable.

Although each of these 3 parts are important for a plane to work correctly, for our topic of organizational growth, let's focus on the body for now, with the other parts of the plane to be talked about in the future.

We want to talk about this because this is usually where organizations struggle the most during their growth period. Of course there is no perfect formula to what works best as every organization is different. However, before you invest in overhead and operations, there are a few questions you can ask yourself before doing so:

1) Are you adding staff because you NEED to or because you are trying to keep up with the "Joneses"? That nonprofit added a FT Development Director, we need one too . . . that nonprofit added an Admin Assistant, we need one too. . . that nonprofit added an Operations Director, we need one too. We are not questioning your desire for any of the items above but have you taken the time to really plan the need for the addition? For example, with staff members, it does sound great to add a FT Development Director but did you take the time to layout a list of duties and schedule out what the work week would look like?

2) If it is a program addition, was it something which was needed and impactful? Was the idea something you personally wanted and have a passion for or was it something that the community was asking for, which can make a big impact. Not just one or two people bringing it up to you but did you do a REAL bonafide program assessment study to really understand the true need for the potential program? (Shameless plug, MSG can help if you need one)

3) Have you looked into other options? Can you partner on a program, or refer, another organization? Can you cost share an employee or use a contracted person?

4) Is this in your budget? Pretty self explanatory but . . . well . . . is it in your budget?

5) Finally, is it sustainable? Sure, adding a new staff member is awesome and might fit in the budget but is it a cost you can sustain for at least the next 3 years? No one wants to be in a job where they have to wonder if they are going to be laid off year after year. Clients and funders don't want to see programs coming and going constantly, because you can't afford to continue them.

Now don't get us wrong. If you have read any of our past entries, you know that MSG is big into investing in your organization and capacity building. However we also have a belief that you should not just want to grow . . . but you want to GROW SMART!!!

Taking the time to answer these few questions to yourself will help make sure the body of your plane is the right size and stay in the air for a long time. Although we never have taken an official poll on this, we do feel that most people who fly prefer their planes to stay in the air during the scheduled flight times . . . as will your board and staff with your organization.


To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at

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