Strive for Outcomes. Or, Why Your Successful Nonprofit Should Go Out Of Business.

I’ve often said that every donor should ask grantees what is the charity doing to put itself out of business. I think I got this mentality from from the old expression: “give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”

What I’m getting at is the opportunity to provide a true impact is at hand. Every nonprofit was established to resolve some issue in society. So, why not actually resolve something… permanently?

The Soup Kitchen Example

The soup kitchen has an obligation to feed the needy, although it has a captive audience for at least a few minutes as people pass through the line. What can happen in a few minutes, besides getting food? Why not have career coaches actively engage the patrons and representatives from community education resources as well? If not every day, then at least weekly. Theoretically, a successful implementation will result in fewer repeat patrons.

Another way of looking at the soup kitchen example is to inquire about the food costs. Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t already the most financially efficient places when it comes to stretching the dollar to provide substantive food. Quite the contrary. I’m wondering about the missed opportunities for funding diversification. For instance, what’s more attractive to a donor:

Requestor 1: “[Insert $$ ask here] to feed [number of] families for a [insert timeframe here] and we’ll [insert recognition here].”


Requestor 2: “[Insert $$ ask here] to feed [number of] families for a [insert timeframe here] and we’ll [insert recognition here].

We’re using funds that would have gone to giving you a plaque on or donor wall to instead construct a compost bin for our waste. We intend to use the compost in our new windowsill garden so that we can teach our patrons how to grow herbs and vegetables. If we generate enough, we intend to sell unused compost and use raised money to further our mission of ensuring healthy meals for the needy.”

I don’t know about you, but as a donor, I’d give to the second requestor. By teaching others how to become farmers instead of constant recipients, they’re trying to put themselves out of business! They’re also trying to reduce their environmental footprint and diversify their income. What a novel idea! I may even give more money so that the kitchen can accomplish the goals faster or broaden their initial plans.

With the added effort, donor reports stop being outputs-based and turn into outcomes. The first requestor really could only report on three things: 1) budget, 2) number of people fed, and 3) how long they got fed / what they were fed (okay, maybe four things).

The second requestor could report on all of these, plus: 1) the number of people who participated in gardening / learned how to garden, 2) the amount of money that is now coming in because of compost sales, and 3) what they are able to do with the increased bounty of food and money. Every little bit of a going-out-of-business strategy helps, and the outcomes demonstrate it.

Next time, when a nonprofit asks for money, be sure to ask how they’re trying to go out of business. The question might surprise them – but isn’t that what they should be trying to do?

What do you think? Can you think of any nonprofit that shouldn’t strive to go out of business? Leave some feedback and I’ll do my part to respond accordingly.

About the Author

Leith Robotham HeadShotLeith Robotham is a global corporate community engagement specialist, assisting companies large and small to improve corporate image, brand and reputation among multiple stakeholders. Currently, Leith directs the corporate services and engagement activities of Kordant Philanthropy Advisors. Previously, he established Caterpillar Foundation’s international grants program.

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