The marriage of purpose, margin and culture in nonprofit.

I recently read an article written for the corporate sector reminding business readers to keep track of the ultimate purpose of their work as a means to engage staff, stakeholders, and ultimately, customers and clients.  If staff understand that each day, everything they do is contributing to a greater good, then they will be more apt to be productive, loyal, and stand as ambassadors for the organization. In a hospital setting, for example, a custodian might count his or her days by the number of floors washed or wastebaskets emptied.  Or, she can determine that every act of cleaning up is contributing to the well-being and healing of those who are sick and in their care. Articulating and knowing the purpose will have the intended consequence of improving the bottom line—and, it will improve the quality of life for everyone who touches an organization—customers, clients, and employees alike.

It’s easy to forget purpose when one is caught up in the day-to-day busyness of work. Though in the nonprofit world, purpose is mostly what attracts people to the work. We enter this work to make a difference. We get to go home and night and know that we have contributed—and improved—the life—or lives—of others. We get to work alongside people who care deeply about the work that they do, and our lives are enriched by the stories of strength, hope, and resilience told by our clients and by our colleagues about what brought them to this work to begin with.  

Inculcating the culture of caring by shining a light on our purpose is what drives those who work in nonprofits—and what has driven us all along.  In the meantime, there are strong lessons to be learned from the business sector—specifically employing the metrics that measure the impact and value of our work—not just the numbers of people we serve—but the actual lives changed and the ways in which they are changed.   When we stress margin in the nonprofit sector, it is because the  revenues generated above expense will be turned back into infrastructure, research and expanded services.  This can translate into  greater influence on policy that benefits those we serve.

In the meantime, for-profit businesses are becoming more and more invested in the vision and purpose of their work, borrowing from the non-profit sector’s long-time raison d’etre. I find it thrilling to be trading best practices with successful businesses, marrying our cultures of bottom-line reasoning alongside purposeful and meaningful work to better serve the world in every way.

At Fedcap we are united in the purpose: The Power of Possible. I like to think that every day each of us can go home and know what our purpose is—and that every day, we are making a difference, raising aspirations—not only for our clients—but for all of our stakeholders.

What impact does purpose have in your day-to-day working life? Are there ways to incorporate it more directly? How might you articulate the culture of your organization more clearly and with intention?

I welcome your thoughts.

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