Growing & Scaling an Organization Without Compromise

“The key to growth that furthers your organization’s ethos and work is holistic branding.”
Joe Lloyd

What’s the most flight of stairs you’ve ever walked up? Ten? Fifteen? And what does that have to do with scaling an organization?

Envision your nonprofit as a building. You may have been in a three- or four-story building when you started with only a clear vision and your values to guide you. The building was easy to navigate, and it was exhilarating to go from floor to floor using your own two feet.

But, after a few years of hard work, you finally see your organization grow. Your building might be ten stories now, and an elevator is the proper scaling system to navigate taller buildings. The building has grown but needs a suitable system to navigate it more efficiently.

The growing pains of a nonprofit are typically associated with people stretched beyond their capacity, unclear roles and responsibilities, and placing the wrong person in an essential position. If you ask anyone working at a nonprofit, they’ll likely quip about the job description; then all the other work they have to do.

 

 

So, what should you do?

Let’s talk about scaling your organization.

Growth means your organization is expanding in the number of people you serve, the programs you offer, the number of staff you have, and, hopefully, in your revenue.

Scaling an organization is about how your organization handles growth and if you have the proper systems to accommodate growth while alleviating growing pains.

Imagine everyone in your organization getting to do what they are best at; this is what proper scaling offers. When everyone is working within their assigned job description and God-given skill set, this strengthens your mission as a nonprofit because you’re becoming more effective in your work.

Here is one of the best questions you can ask yourself and your team to begin parsing through all the minutiae: what are only things you can do?

The executive director of a nonprofit organization is meant to be in donor meetings or cultivating key leaders and not down in the nitty gritty. Several people in the organization could write a monthly newsletter, order ink cartridges, or go to the grocery store for staff parties.

 

 

Scaling an Organization Through Holistic Branding

You might be worried that growing and scaling an organization could mean you lose the ethos of your work or lose sight of your mission, but proper scaling is essential to ensure that you remain true to your mission and have clear, purpose-driven branding.

There’s a misconception that organizational growth results in mission drift and a loss of brand ethos.

You might feel like you have to choose growth that leads to compromise on your mission or keep a focused vision that’s only possible in your original context. But we don’t buy this false dichotomy.

The key to growth that furthers your organization’s ethos and work is holistic branding.

Branding is more than your logo or typography. Good branding connects your organizational needs to the core values of who you are and what you do. Good branding solidifies your mission and furthers your work.

Think of your brand as a promise performed over time. An issue we see in growing nonprofits is that their promises performed over time tend toward the uninspiring, untimely, and unimportant. When key leaders become too bogged down in the day-to-day, they put off the essential time needed to envision and dream about their mission, brand, and work.

(Psst… If you want some ideas on vision casting, we’ve created our own resource that we’d love if you took a look at.)

And so, your mission is lacking, and your brand begins to lose trust because the important things are no longer getting done on time due to the growing demands of the nitty gritty and being involved in too many decisions.

 

 

Decision Making When Scaling an Organization

Nonprofits often get bogged down in the decision-making process.

There’s a balance between including everyone in the decision-making process and the executive director calling all the shots. Decision-making can become a bottleneck because decisions take too long and implementation is unclear.

Executive directors might be used to the early days when they’re responsible for every decision. When scaling an organization, it’s important to relieve pressure from key leaders in the organization regarding decision-making.

In nonprofits, almost everything feels urgent, but rarely is something both urgent and important. Part of scaling an organization is allowing the right people to focus on the important things and less on the urgent things.

Nonprofits that scale well utilize high-quality, team-based decisions on important things. Team-based decisions ensure equal ownership and input over important decisions. This means your mission sits in the hands of the key leaders at the table, not just in the minds of the board or executive director.

However, there can be a dirty underbelly to decision-making.

If you’re an executive director, next time you talk with your board or executive team, ask them, “Who makes the decisions here?” They might look puzzled, but hearing who they believe is actually in charge will be illuminating.

Have you ever been a part of a group that promises equality in decision-making, but there is a clear hierarchy? Maybe your leadership team is five people, but there is an inside group of three people who have lunch together after the meeting and then make the real decision.

Is there an inner circle within your leadership team? Or maybe there is an outside voice that strongly influences your organization?

Answering these questions might be awkward, but it can reveal who is really making the decisions rather than whom we think is making the decisions.

If this dynamic is present in your organization, it must be acknowledged because streamlining your decision-making is essential to scaling an organization.

Remember, what is something only you can do?

If you’re dealing with the challenges of growing and scaling, we love working with organizations like you, even if that means getting down in the trenches with you.

We don’t expect you to have it all figured out or that every part of your organization is healthy and efficient, we simply love partnering with people along the journey toward flourishing and good work.

Joe Lloyd
Amenable Alumnus
Joe describes his job as capturing the imagination of anybody who encounters his writing. More specifically, though, he wants collaborators to feel courageous in their ambitions for their organization and its mission. In his spare time, Joe can be found exercising his comprehensive knowledge of 90s Christian music or his compulsion to run—he once ran a hundred-mile race.
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