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September's focus is on the not-for-profit sector

There are many organisations that have community service or 'for purpose' as their core objective. These organisations rightly believe that their principle role is to fulfil that objective.

But does this mean that the not-for-profit organisation should not also be focused on being financially sustainable in its own right?

It is a difficult time for most not-for-profits and this means that we all have to be smarter, more focused and innovative about how we deliver our services, products and programs.

This month's challenge focuses on applying some basic business principles to not-for-profits and also looks at some of the funding options available.


Day 1:        Evaluate your current position

All NFP organisations today are operating in a rapidly changing funding environment. This means that we have to revisit our mission and value statements to make sure that our services and products are still relevant and that our operating structures give us the flexibility to introduce and deliver new services if necessary.

Today's challenge is to look at your core mission and ask yourself the following questions: Is our core mission still relevant to market needs? What should we be doing or be doing better? Do we have enough funding to continue to function as we are? Will our current structure allow us to grow, change, and redirect our services easily?


Day 2:        Do you still have the right structure?

These are a variety of corporate structures that can be and are used by NFP organisations, including incorporated association and company limited. Each has different responsibilities and obligations and provides different opportunities to the organisation. The challenge for today is to review these structures and decide whether the structure you have is still the most appropriate for what you want to achieve.


Day 3:        Are you clear on the difference between a NFP and a registered charity?

For those of you that are new to the NFP space this is a difference you need to understand. The process for registration is different and there are different advantages when it comes to raising funds. The challenge for today is to read up on this and see if you are registered appropriately or should think about registering


Day 4:        Do you know the difference between ASIC and the ACNC?

Again for those of you starting out, the difference between these two organisations is confusing. But it is important to know who is responsible for what, so your task today is to understand the different roles of these two organisations when it comes to your NFP and compliance and


Day 5:        Do you have the right board in place?

Corporate governance or the policies and procedures by which an organisation is managed tend to make all our eyes glaze over – but strong governance is becoming a central factor to successful fundraising. With the increasing demand and competition for funds, providers are focusing more on how their funds will be spent and managed.

We have all heard about the push towards skill based and diversified boards, how is you organisation performing in this regard?


Day 6:        Time to be honest about our core mission?

We have all heard about the government and corporate sponsors tightening their belts, which means that NFP's are competing for the same, smaller pot of money. Is your core focus or mission still relevant to the needs of the community? Is the story still compelling to potential funders? Do you need to amend your focus in any way?


Day 7:        What is your value proposition?

A for profit business knows that its product or service has to offer a unique value to a customer. Without this a business has no place in the market. It is just as important for a NFP to have a value proposition not only to its customers but also to those that provide its funding. Your task today is to prepare a clear and defensible (i.e., test it out on a few people) value proposition for your organisation.


Day 8:        Does your organisation have a strong culture?

To be successful an organisation must have a strong organisation culture – this is the way staff relate to each other, the outside world and the objectives of the organisation. Today's task is to critically look at the staff mix and draw up a matrix of the skills you have in-house and those you might need to bring in.


Day 9:        Understand your competition (or coopetition)

Changes in funding support means that many NFP's are providing additional or adjunct services outside their core business. Your task today is to map your competition. Who is delivering the same sort of service, or something that could replace your service? Can any of these become partners often referred to as coopetition, in the delivery of key services and programs?


Day 10:      Revise your mission

Based on what you decided following yesterday's challenge, today's task is to redefine your core mission. Remember to take into account what other providers are offering, any crossovers and any niche areas that are not being addressed.


Day 11:      Understanding the costs associated with running your NFP

We all have cash flows and budgets, but how well do you understand how much it costs to run your NFP? Today's exercise is to look at how much it costs to run your core services versus the other stuff. This will help identify possible savings or ways to improve your service delivery.


Day 12:      Can any of your costs be shared?

As much as we all like 'to protect our patch' it makes good financial sense to reduce administration resources and costs where possible. Think about things like rent, payroll and insurance. Are they any like-minded organisations that you could share these costs with? If yes, what would be the benefit to your organisation and to theirs?


Day 13:      Investigate your main source of funding?

Today's task is to do a little more investigation into your main source of funding. Most NFP's receive funding from the Federal, State or local government. How long is the current commitment? Can this be leveraged in some way, for example by offering an expanded service or by suggesting savings through things like cost sharing? Is there another government enterprise that can offer similar support?


Day 14:      What about corporate partnerships?

Many NFPs have become quite comfortable with the idea of being funded by some level of government – the reality is we can't rely on this. Government priorities change, constantly. Today's challenge is to think about the type of corporate partnerships that would support the mission and activities of your organisation – think laterally.


Day 15:      Working with philanthropic organisations.

Some NFPs have discovered philanthropy in Australia and have realised that they all have 'specialised areas' they fund and support. The majority of these organisations provide small amounts of funding for one off projects which can be very useful in building the strength of your brand and reputation. Today, spend a bit of time researching these organisations and identify at least one that is worth approaching. Then think about the project you would pitch to them.


Day 16:      Have you ever considered charging for services?

Before you all recoil in horror – a NFP can have two arms to its business. The first is free to the core customer base and those that are not in a position to pay. The second is commercial type service, where you either are paid for your expertise (e.g., you provide training to an external organisation) or you charge those customers who can afford to pay for your services.

Of course this depends on the products and services you are offering, but is it something worth thinking about?


Day 17:      Is your organisation well recognised?

All For Profit businesses know how important brand management is; a lot of NFPs however think that their product and services is their brand. Unfortunately this isn't the case. Large well known NFP's have detailed policies to manage the use of their brands. The small NFP space is very 'noisy' with everyone competing for attention: - a strong brand therefore is an important part of a longer term growth strategy.

Today's task it to conduct a random poll on how well people know your brand – go out in the street and ask 20 total strangers what they know about your organisation.


Day 18:      Does your way of fundraising still work?

Most of us have walked around the shopping centre with buckets to collect gold coin donations – but have you noticed that there are now two or three groups doing the same thing every weekend?

Fundraising is still very important to NFPs but there are many different ways to do it; think about challenges, partnerships and special niche events. Have a think about your current fundraising activities and what you can do to make them stand out from all the others.


Day 19:      Understanding your sphere of influence.

Ignoring the role that spheres of influence plays in your marketing plan can be hazardous to your business health. A sphere of influence is any entity or person that can sway the decision to support or fund your activities over those of someone else.

These people are not your end customer, but they do influence how others spend their donation funds - think of advocates, the media, potential partners and complementary service providers. Today's task is to think who these influencers are in relation to your NFP and how can you better engage with them.


Day 20:      NFP's can learn a lot from start-up businesses.

Start-ups know a lot about 'doing more with less' and a lot of the start-up methodologies can be applied to Not-for-profits, including the Business Model Canvas -

Day 21:      Digital technology can be a great tool for marketing campaigns.

Digital technology like mobile, content marketing, video, email and social media has created fantastic opportunities to engage with new audiences. They don't have to be expensive, but they do have to inspire the audience. Today's challenge is to think about how you can create an innovative digital campaign.


Day 22:      Where can I go for help?

While their core business is different, NFPs need to learn some of the basic business principles that all For Profit companies use. There are a range of service providers including Canberra Business Chamber and CBRIN that offer workshops on the basics of business. Today's final challenge is to work out whether you need help and where you can go to get it.


For some helpful advice, visit the Lighthouse Facebook page for online articles and resources to help you complete the daily challenges.


About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit for more information.