4 Things For Profits Can Learn From Non-profits

By October 8, 2013Church, Leadership

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I’ve been in vocational ministry…my primary income came from ministry work…non-profits…for over ten years now. My professional career, however, is much longer. I had over 20 years in management and leadership positions in secular (for profit) work prior to ministry.

Recently I heard a great talk from Jeff Henderson (read my notes HERE), on what non-profits can learn from for profits. I agreed with the points Jeff made.

In discussing the talk with one of my sons, he asked a great question. He asked, “What have you learned in the church (non-profit) work that could have helped you in business (for profit)?”

Great question. I love that my boys are old enough to start challenging my thought process and make me better.

Here are 4 things for profits could learn from non-profits:

People matter – In the church or non-profit world…the vision…almost always involves people (or living parts of creation)…above profit. Hence the “non-profit”. Frankly, that can be frustrating for those of us who like our balance sheets and income statements to reflect financial health, but I’ve learned…often the hard way…that why we are doing what we are doing is most important. Improving the overall health or spiritual well being of a child, for example, is more important even than having a positive cash flow at the end of the month. (That said…my business minded friends are thinking…without positive cash flow…in time we will cease to make any difference in the child’s life…but the point is people matter most. The for profit world could many times stand a lesson in that truth.)

It’s the little things – It. Always. Is. In business, we tended to move towards and place our energy on the big. Big projects. Big profit. Big customers. We knew the small things mattered, but the big seemed to overshadow that in our actions. If the numbers were big…we could ignore that someone was a real jerk to work with others…for example. In the ministry and non-profit world, we’ve learned that many times the little things matter most. When the father who has never been to church shows up one Sunday…small deal to some…big deal to us. We see the potential. The smallest moments of time can often be the biggest excitement for us.

Money is not enough – We know this because we seldom seem to have money. And yet the work must continue. So we have to get real creative at times. We’ve learned it’s more about the people involved than the budget. We would rather have the funds, but in lieu of that, we adapt. The best non-profits are real good at utilizing volunteer labor and rallying people to support a cause.

At the end of the day, what you do for others is most important – We love visions. We love progress. We love strategies and systems and structure. We’ve actually gotten pretty good at them. But, if you check our heartbeat…if you measured our pulse…we get most excited when others succeed. We dance at the betterment of people we love. And, we love people. It makes he DNA of who we are as churches and non-profits. A few for profits I know could learn from us in this area.

The bottom line is that both worlds have things we can learn from each other. Often what appears to be opposing mindsets may be complimentary if we allowed them to work for us rather than against us.

So, here’s a thought…what if non-profits got together with for profits? And for profits got together with non-profits? And we learn from each other? Just a thought.

One way I’ve done this is to form leadership circles I meet with regularly, comprised of leaders from both sectors. It is proving valuable for all of us.

What else could for profits learn from non-profits?  

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • lombardrisk says:

    these are all very good points , I have also been on both sides and feel what you have added here is very valid , it is easy to get a bit lost in for profit organisations and loose your humanity. one thing that I would like to point out is that efficiency is something that non profits can learn about from for profit organisations – there has to be a balance but i still feel that they can learn from this ( just in my experience !!)

  • Julia says:

    The for profit can also learn how to maximize budgets, improve financial reporting and develop trust and transparency. Non profit organizations are held to a higher financial standard and need robust non profit accounting software to be able to report to donors, board members and to governing bodies.

  • katsuiro says:

    Yes I agree totally.
    very helpful for people like me who are slowly sliding from profits to non profits world…
    thank you

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