Ventures or new organizational initiatives, whether in the profit or non-profit sector, face tough mortality rates early on. Luck clearly plays a role in the success of new initiatives, but I find that many times it has to do with a combination of tackling too many items, lacking organizational skills or resources, and not working out important issues of collaboration and leadership.
Non-profits bear a bigger brunt in my opinion:
- People tend to be naturally (and rightfully) more altruistic in non-profit endeavors - This creates a large appetite, but it must be tapered with some discipline and a devil's advocate mentality to say that "we should first bite off a smaller goal".
- Non-profits may have greater tendencies to lack optimum organizational structures - As I mentioned in a prior post outlining how MBAs can apply skills in a non-profit environment, many non-profits I've seen have more diverse demographics than corporations. This is great, but it may also mean that a non-profit is getting contributed (pro-bono) support where one can't control the quality or goals of the resource as one would with an employee of a commercial entity. Non-profits may also lack resources in the way of $$ or specialized help on-staff.
- Non-profits may lack collaboration mechanisms more widely used in the high-tech space - Some of the team members may be working virtually from the organization (e.g., if contributed pro-bono work). Given that virtual teams have "amplified collaboration needs" (term coined here by Arienna Foley), it is worthwhile to figure out how to get the people to actively collaborate and get quick wins. Some bootstrap tools that may help in the greater effort of getting the team to work together include things like free conference calling (www.freeconferencecall.com), instant organizational intranet (note whitepaper PDF file) and communication platform (e.g., using free configuration of 21Publish group publishing service), and Skype (free voice over IP, e.g., for international team members).
In any case, I hope that these items and pointers above may help give some ideas to those working for non-profits. This post was motivated by a portion of a broader discussion I had with Dr. Saraiya regarding the South Asian Health Research Institute (SAHRI). Dr. Saraiya asked me to write down some of my thoughts in starting a new endeavor.
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