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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Getting your nonprofit out of survival mode

nonprofit resiliency

Nonprofits provide an immense service to our communities, and are the first place many go when they at their most vulnerable.  Even so, parts of the nonprofit sector face reduced resources, increased regulation, and increased competition, putting service-based organizations in a state of vulnerability as they continue efforts to show up for community members in need while facing similar survival instincts. Data from the National Center on Charitable Statistics shows that 30% of nonprofits will fail within the first ten years, often for reasons associated with capacity building and resiliency.  The National Council of Nonprofits defines capacity building as “an investment in the effectiveness and future sustainability of a nonprofit”.

Special care and attention must be placed on understanding the deep-rooted relationship between capacity building and nonprofit resiliency.  The distinction lies in resiliency’s focus on deep, long-term, and transparent processes that align with the organization’s strengths, opportunities, and questions or needs rather than conventional capacity building which often includes half day workshops that are not individualized to organizational needs. Organizations are as unique as human beings, and without care and attention to this uniqueness, standard change techniques have a higher risk of failing.

Strategies to simultaneously support resiliency and capacity building while meeting this uniqueness include:


Strengths, areas for growth, and history must be fully understood to identify what has supported the organization in surviving thus far, while creating an individualized approach to build a strategy for resiliency. Assessment options include:

    • Nonprofit Lifecycles Developmental Assessment – provides diagnostic information specific to developmental stages of nonprofits focused on growth of management, governance, financial resources, and administrative system in support of the mission and programs.
    • Organizational Mapping Tool – allows for a deep dive into specific areas of organizational resiliency, effectiveness, strengths, and needs in 15 areas developed by the Ford Foundation.

These assessments must be used as tools and not as a checklist.  Time must be provided to examine and fully understand any issues within the organization to identify a strategy that will meet the individualized need for the organization, while utilizing strengths to support the success within the change process.

Develop a Strategy

After completing an assessment or combination of assessments, leaders should have a clear sense of the cultural values of the organization, stage of development, areas of strength, and areas for growth. Next, leadership should determine an approach to implement change that supports long term balance. Options listed below are available to match a variety of different needs and approaches.

  • Partnerships: Nonprofits are created to meet a need.  Leaders and staff should remain specialized in meeting this need, instead of becoming generalists operating businesses without the expertise needed.  Simultaneously, too often nonprofits exist within siloes and struggle with capacity in silence.  Utilizing the assessment, organizations should identify their strengths and the strengths of others in their community to build collaborative relationships that share overhead costs and needs. Collaborations can be built with other nonprofits, fiscal sponsors, government agencies, or for-profit companies. Leaders need relationships to sustain and building partnerships allows for this mutual benefit.
  • Outsource: Similarly, any generalized needs that are not in line with the organization’s mission that are not met through partnerships should be considered as options for outsourcing. Outsourcing can be to firms, contractors, discounted services available through nonprofit associations, and/or volunteers. Cost savings for the organization include benefits, office space, technology, and human resource capital.
  • Learn: For areas that are necessary to build within the organization, special care and attention must be placed on how information is learned. Pedagogical research has shown time and time again that workshops and classroom-based learning are not effective in implementation, specifically in skills needed for organizational leadership and effectiveness. Again focusing on relationships, recommendations of turning towards building professional learning communities, cohorts, coaches, and mentors to learn, be held accountable for behavioral change, share struggles, test strategies, and receive feedback is needed to build true resiliency. 

Through the implementation of these strategies, nonprofits can find calm in moving from surviving to thriving allowing for a parallel process that also supports thriving community members. It is time we take a different approach and build resilient organizations with strong foundations that can realize their missions.

Beth Anderson is a 2023 graduate of the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University.  She has spent over a decade as a social worker providing direct care and supervision to programs supporting children and families in community-based and in-home settings. She now provides consultation and support to nonprofits and programs working to meet needs within their community by strengthening their organization and leadership skills through a transformative approach based in relationship and resiliency. 

Image by Lillian Finley

Learn more about our Capacity Building Services

The ASU Lodestar Center can help your organization grow its capacity with one of our Capacity Building services.These programs can help take your organization to the next level in helping your communities and achieving your mission. We can match you with individual volunteers and professionals with Experience Matters and Public Allies Arizona, as well as give you a nationally certified system for volunteer management with Service Enterprise Initiative. We can also help your organization at a higher level with Board Governance training and Strategic Planning. There's something for every organization. 

Beth Anderson


ASU Lodestar Center Blog