Many new non-profits and ministries function more like a large company than a start-up, and spend years indirectly learning how to grow.
After 10 years in the non-profit sector, either starting or watching others start a ministry, the biggest misunderstanding comes from thinking big instead of small. Start-up leaders must think big, but invest small. By invest small I mean allocating resources in a way that explores a variety of avenues for growth, rather than committing to one avenue that worked for another (and often larger) ministry or organization.
Steve Blank talks about this problem with for profit companies:
VC’s (Venture Capitalists) thought of startups as smaller versions of large companies. Large companies wrote business plans, so VC’s made startups write business plans. Large companies had VP’s of Sales and Marketing, so VC’s made startups organize that way as well. Large companies executed plans well and when they didn’t work, they fired the executives who screwed up. So VC’s assumed that startups should equally unfold per the plan – firing executives when reality intruded.
In ministries and non-profits it’s less about business plans and Vice Presidents, but more about over-depending on “corporate” to meet every need and a focus on repeating out-dated or “successful” models or events instead of experimenting and measuring new ones.
Blank offers an alternative and path for small businesses that apply to non-profits and ministries equally:
Startups needed tools to help them organize their hypotheses, and then needed a process to rapidly test those hypotheses. And they needed tools that recognized that most startups go from failure to failure as they searched for, and discovered, product/market fit. And that instead of firing executives to match a plan, it was the plan itself that needed to rapidly iterate.
Most large companies have become large because they found a plan that generates repeatable income on a large scale. Most small companies (including non-profits) have not found or refined their path to the point where they see repeatable and scalable success.
It’s painful to see a small non-profit invest significant resources on making one plan or strategy work instead of investing a small amount of resources in a variety of experiments, measuring the results, and then committing to one plan that’s been proven to work better than others.
If you are small then consider investing more resources towards experimenting and measuring alternative paths to growth. Trying something new is not effective if there are no measurements and feedback to determine whether it’s a viable alternative.