What Businesses Can Learn from Nonprofits

There is a common misconception amongst those of us in the for-profit world that nonprofits are vastly different. In some ways, they are, but in a few vitally important areas, nonprofits seem to have their act together better than the average for-profit business.  Don’t believe me? We’ve seen nonprofits excel in many of these areas where for-profit businesses often struggle:


Without a mission, a nonprofit isn’t a compelling story, right? Who is going to support a nonprofit with a mission that doesn’t elicit emotion of some kind?

For-profit businesses need a mission too. If your prospective customers don’t understand why you exist, it’s likely they’ll do business with someone who has a better story. Your prospects need to understand, in their mind, what doing business with you would do for them.

Telling Stories

Since early man gathered around fires at night, telling stories has been integral to the human condition. Today, telling stories helps put a face to the mission of a nonprofit. Without those stories, we’re reduced to banal lists of generic words to describe our mission. Too often, for-profit business is reduced to “selling features” instead of solving problems which are most effectively communicated by telling stories.

Running Lean

Most nonprofits understand budget constraints and how to operate efficiently, making things happen without the funding that would cause most to give up. Nonprofits may see their under-funded budget as a problem, but most get creative beyond what they imagined possible.

For-profit business can benefit from lean budgets too. A lack of resources and a daunting goal can make your enterprise creative and capable. And the more lean and mean you can be, the better your chance of survival when times are hard…and hard times will always come.


Nonprofits need each other. Many people in for-profit business take on the “we can do it ourselves” attitude and neglect the opportunities available to partner with other businesses around them. Nonprofits know they can’t do it all and are motivated to leverage their relationship to help them and other nonprofits to greater heights.


Who doesn’t like to celebrate, right? Nonprofits know how to throw a party when they meet their goals. One of the best examples is the Center for Nonprofit Management’s annual “Salute to Excellence” which celebrates the accomplishments of the many excellent nonprofits in Nashville.

Recognition and reward can go a long way in the for-profit world. When you hit your goals, make sure those who participated are rewarded in some way and enabled to revel in their success. A little “touchdown dance” is good for everyone!

We’ve got some excellent examples in our client base of nonprofits who are rocking the business world. They’re proof that for-profit businesses should expand their horizons when it comes to looking for business inspiration. It may not be the huge corporation that has the best business practices; it may just be the small organization that is working on a next-to-nothing budget.

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