How to Break Out of the Non-Profit Sandbox

An organization that I talked with recently is stuck in the non-profit “sandbox.” That’s my term for organizations where everything seems to be ok, but just ok. Nothing is super exciting, or moving along super-fast, but nothing is going wrong either. Fundraising is ok… PR is ok… staffing is ok. Everything is… ok.

I know of many, many non-profits that are in the same situation. Generally, when non-profits are in the sandbox, they don’t realize anything is wrong, because nothing is going poorly. Everything is coasting along, thus it seems that everything is fine, and there’s no need to worry. Much like a child in a sandbox at the playground, who is content digging the same sand over and over again, never getting out to try the slide, the swings, or the climbing wall, non-profits that are stuck in the sandbox keep plugging along year after year, never looking for new or innovative ways to carry out and fund their mission.

What’s Wrong with the Sandbox, Anyway?

You may be tempted to ask, “What’s wrong with being in the sandbox?” There aren’t any fires to put out, no big issues that need to be dealt with, and you’re slowly but steady serving your mission… isn’t that great?

Well, actually, no it isn’t so great. Staying in the sandbox would be fine if you were a neighborhood restaurant or the local dry cleaner… you’re humming along, providing a decent living for your family, not rocking the boat… but as a non-profit, you need to remember that your mission matters. You’re trying to change the world (or at least your corner of it) aren’t you?

If so, then you need to start rocking the boat… thinking big in fundraising (and in everything else).

The best way to break free from the non-profit sandbox is to realize you’re in it, and to make a commitment, as an organization, to do something bold and innovative this year. Sure, thinking big and being bold is sometimes scary, but it’s far better than looking back after the year is over and regretting the fact that you didn’t swing for the fences this year.

What big things is your non-profit going to accomplish this year? Better get started!


Photo credit: Michael Newman