Lean Startup + Social Sector = Lean Impact

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries - The Lean Method

Nonprofits know how to run on a shoestring budget, and the majority do it well for the sake of creating positive change. Meanwhile, they’re held to stricter standards of spending and reporting than any for-profit business. It’s a tough hand. So what do we do?

Develop A Lean Method

Let’s be clear about what we mean here by “develop a lean method“. As I mentioned in the first sentence, nonprofits are already running “lean” in a lot of ways. We’re not talking about “lean” in terms of budget or staffing. We’re talking about operating and growing to specifically maximize impact, by adapting Lean Startup methodologies for nonprofits.

What is “The Lean Startup”?

It’s a book written by tech entrepreneur Eric Ries, who has learned a lot from both, success and failure. He realized that traditional business models, tactics, and metrics weren’t helping him in the environment of “extreme uncertainty” that startups exist in (sound familiar?). So, he focused his company’s development in ways that minimized wasted time and effort. Here’s a breakdown of the basic principles.

Why Should Nonprofits Adopt A Lean Method?

Because something needs to change. Reality is, out of sheer necessity to keep the lights on, many nonprofits spend more time fundraising and defending their work than they do on program development, impact assessment and innovation. This isn’t what sustainability looks like. Instead, nonprofits need the funds and freedom to focus on the latter three; this will take a systemic change within the nonprofit sector. By applying Lean principles to nonprofits, we can explore ways for nonprofits to do things a little differently, while challenging nonprofit investors to consider what they can do to help support maximum, sustainable impact.

Who is Doing It?

Formally and informally, a lot of nonprofits are already implementing Lean Startup principles.  Senior management is stepping up to create an environment where staff is allowed (and encouraged) to think outside the box, and act on innovative ideas.  Data Center, for example, is unleashing the entrepreneurship within its organization through a model called ‘shared leadership’.  And they’re not the only ones developing a lean method to operate their business.  See how and why five incredible nonprofits are getting lean.

Your turn: Has your organization developed a lean method yet? If so, have you found it to be beneficial to your business growth and overall community impact? Please share your insights below in the Comments section!

Image Source: Betsy Weber/Creative Commons

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