How to create sustainable change: 7 top tips for non-profits

By Roni Roseberg

The Inland Empire of Southern California is located about an hour and half east of Los Angeles and encompasses the largest county in the US, San Bernardino County, as well as Riverside County, and a myriad of diverse cities. In two neighbouring Southern California cities, Colton and San Bernardino, are where you’ll find Frank Ibarra – a walking gold mine of information, particularly in education and non-profit management.

Nearly everyone in the field of education in these parts has heard of Frank. He’s been on the Colton School Board as an elected official longer than anyone and also teaches for the San Bernardino Unified School District. He’s had experience as a sports coach and a mental health counsellor too.

I was therefore delighted to interview Frank, who was my colleague for several years. His combination of positive attitude, experience and faith in people’s ability to learn and grow that makes everyone like Frank.

Even though he and I worked with a challenging population—the formerly incarcerated—any problem was easy to surmount with Frank. He always has time to listen and has a ready smile.

Here are his seven top tips for building (and sustaining!) a thriving non-profit!

1. Don’t cut founding corners

Have a mission statement and a vision formally written down. Identify goals to reach your vision and steps to reach the goals.

Take time to draft the correct paperwork and ensure that you’ve fulfilled all legal obligations. There may be need for a board to oversee the organisation. Don’t take shortcuts; this is your foundation.

2. Be resource-driven

Try to make the organisation holistic in its outlook. Identify services you can offer via your funding. See who your organisation can link with to utilise their resources and refer clients to. Offer cooperation to your resource organisations.

3. Value each and every individual

Work with each individual and their needs. Always leave each person better off than when they came to you. Continually search for ways to teach new things to both staff and clients. You can’t assume what people know.

Keep an open door philosophy by being flexible, prepared, and willing to add to services.

4. Create a solid spirit of solidarity

Keeping fresh and open to change leads to dynamic, exciting and motivated staff – a team that can spot and utilise opportunities.

Don’t overlook volunteer power too; learn how to manage volunteers from someone experienced at engaging with volunteer groups.

5. Encourage communication

Not everyone is (always) in touch with everyone else in an organisation, so there’s a need for sit-downs on a regular basis. Make sure to share and communicate solid information and beat isolation.

Arrange team meetings and socials and further enhance communication with new techniques and workshops. Whatever the means, be sure to focus on working together as a team.

6. Take your commitment seriously

Search out internal and external methods that work well, and a responsible person for each area of work. Citizen participation is also important. A pitfall to avoid is autocratic leadership and a closed-minded approach.

Cheques and balances, and evaluation are important. They need to be inclusive, fair, and adaptable. They should be drafted and implemented in accordance with national laws.

7. Value change

Keep the organisation up to date. Other programmes out there will be changing, so yours should be adapting too!

Staff need to research what’s happening in the field and see how your organisation can best adapt. Remember: change is a friend, not an enemy.  

If you’ve detected an underlying thread of love for one’s fellow human herein, you’re correct. It is this combination of care and dynamism on a solid foundation of goals and techniques that gets non-profit staff through difficult times, and that is what has kept Frank Ibarra going for some 40 years.

I’m in no doubt that his positive mark will be left on many long after he retires. Kudos to you Frank!

Find out more

For more information about charitable organisations in the UK, including how to register an organisation, please visit the Charity Commission website.

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