There are numerous definitions for the word, profit. Profit, simply put, is a valuable return. As a non-profit leader and consultant to numerous 501c(3) and (6) organizations, I've heard countless reasons to support poor leadership and lack of vision under the guise of, "we're just a non-profit."
Lesson #1: Non-profit status is a tax status, not a reason to run a poor company or defend lack of adequate funding and resources. Instead of shareholders, non-profits have members or a group that expect a valuable return. If a non-profit organization is to be sustainable, it must have leaders and board directors who treat the entity like a high performing business, continuously monitoring performance metrics and adding value. Non-profits must have adequate resources: financial, skilled labor, technology, professional development programs, etc. in order for the organization to perform and deliver.
Lesson #2: Non-profits exist because of their members, volunteers, donors, and community. Get to know these people. Business development is not just a for-profit thing, it is the avenue to building relationships, engaging your supporters, and making sure your organization is well regarded by your main audience, i.e. community. Focus on your market, do what you are good at, and look for ways to develop new opportunities and avenues to grow. Lastly, remember this, you are not special or unique. Non-profit markets are just as competitive as for-profit markets, i.e. target market and certain number of customers: donors, grants, or members.
Lesson #3: Never, ever, ever, again say that you are "just a non-profit." The American Red Cross is "just a non-profit," and their executives enjoy the same lifestyles as their for-profit counterparts. Limiting your vision and belief that you can't transform your mission into a powerful organization will cripple you every step of the way. Attitude is everything. Be professional. Set the bar high, and ensure you have a team of professionals and not social "do-gooders" driving your mission to the top.
The PROFIT in Non-profits continues to yield amazing results around the globe. From membership driven organizations that create tribes of dedicated people elevating industries to the grant giving institutions making wishes for people before they depart this world, every non-profit, when led effectively, has the ability to profit those served. In closing, I urge every non-profit director to re-examine their business model, create career paths for employees, develop talent, ensure adequate resources, create performance metrics, and propel their missions forward by a belief that all those touched along the way will reap tremendous profits, i.e. value by what you've created or by where you are going.