5 ways that nonprofits can benefit from thinking like a startup

I had the opportunity to run a board retreat for a nonprofit that I’m a part of recently, and the theme of the day was, “How to think like a startup.” My goal with the board was to get them thinking about how a startup would tackle the problems we face vs. simply looking at the way we’ve handled these problems in the past.

Throughout the day I had different startups talk to the group, and I led them in some fun brainstorming activities (including the Marshmallow Challenge, which was a huge hit.)

All in all I think it was a great retreat, and we uncovered 5 ways that a nonprofit can benefit from thinking like a startup:

1. Think BIG! In my experience, most nonprofits get comfortable with their daily objectives and lose sight of the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). The only way to achieve greatness is to aspire to it!

2. Then, think small and execute. Focus on the first steps you need to accomplish the BHAG and do those things amazingly. Once you’ve mastered that, move on to the next thing. Get small wins along the way.

3. Embrace your agility. Startups are agile because they have to be. Most nonprofits are small enough to be agile but they can get bogged down with process. Make sure your nonprofit is able to move quickly and adjust to change!

4. Build a stable base. Without having stability at the core, it’s hard to do any of this. All good startups make sure they nail their runway before they start taking too many risks.

5. And then start taking chances and be ok with failing. Failure is ok, as long as it happens fast. Take some small risks, learn from them, and then keep trying new things. That’s the only way to truly break out of your cycle and achieve greatness.