What nonprofit functions are most in need of strengthening?

Nonprofits are typically organized into major functional areas, such as: central administration, governance, and programming. To be sustainable over the long term, each functional area must operate efficiently and effectively and take its place as part of the whole.

The problem arises when cutbacks, programmatic shifts, changing funder and donor needs and the like, take the stage. In such cases, resource-strapped nonprofits are stretched too thin. As a result, less essential functions may become neglected and begin to weaken. This, in turn, affects the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

According to a recent study by the Weingart Foundation, today’s nonprofits identify the following functions as most in need of attention:

Board leadership and development

The need for a strong nonprofit board cannot be overstated. Board members connect the community with an organization’s mission, vision and values. As stewards, they educate the community about the organization’s work and they support the organization with resources needed to fulfill its mission. They hold the organization accountable, and provide fiscal oversight. Many nonprofits are struggling to recruit members who can help move their mission forward and, once recruited, they are unsure of how to keep boards active and participating. For tips on keeping your board engaged, see Boards and Governance.

Program evaluation and strategic learning

Nonprofits recognize the need to regularly assess and evaluate programs and operations in order to better target to their constituency, maintain morale and keep their organizations energized. Unfortunately, many of these nonprofits are simply overwhelmed keeping programs running. As a result they forgo the evaluation and learning opportunities necessary to help build a more sustainable operation. To learn about how you can easily incorporate program evaluation and strategic learning into your nonprofit, read Strategic Planning and Evaluation.

Human resource development

Nonprofits need to focus on leadership transition. They need to find new ways to recruit and cultivate “next generation” organizational leaders. They also need to build capacity to recruit and keep talent and supply the technical resources necessary to carry out their work. To learn about strengthening your HR function, see Managing People.

Financial management

Nonprofits need to build the financial capacity necessary to maintain organizational stability. And financial viability is key. A stable nonprofit is able to adapt to changing environments and more effectively serve the community. To learn about building financial capacity, read Finance.


Though nonprofits and their boards often understand the impact of fundraising in maintaining a strong, sustainable organization, they may think that bringing more dollars in the door is the single answer to their problems. As a result, they underemphasize the need to integrate fundraising with marketing and communications, board governance, evaluation, HR and financial management. In Fundraising, and Marketing & Communications, you’ll learn more about amplifying fundraising and communications by building strong functions in every area.

How to strengthen all of your nonprofit functions

Seek out nonprofit capacity-building services in your community. Look for nonprofit coaching and consulting services, organizational assessment services, training and workshops and more. In Southern California, visit www.cnmsocal.org to learn more.

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