From one moment to the next one

How often do you think about financial sustainability or financial vibrancy? Have you found it yet? Can you?

I’m still thunderstruck by a concept that I bumped into a few years ago. I found it in a paper whose title is a mouthful: Supporting Financial Vibrancy in the Quest for Sustainability in the Nonprofit Sector. The author is Marilyn Struthers, then of The Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Ms Struthers poses that we build financial vibrancy in our quest for sustainability.The article outlines six capacities that emerged from her research that contribute to financial vibrancy. These create resilient and adaptive organizations rather than merely stable ones. All excellent ideas.

But tucked under a box four pages into the study, was the sentence that left me speechless:

“Financial vibrancy is the capacity of an organization to make the transition from one sustainable moment to the next.”

I experienced a moment of ultimate clarity on reading this. I marveled at the purity, the honesty of that statement.

Now I share this marvelous saying with the participants in my workshops. I can see a great burden of guilt fall from their shoulders. Smiles emerge.

Our public charities or NGOs exist in an incredibly dynamic world. The ground is shifting even as I write. We are experiencing great uncertainty about the economy and about the future of employment. We agonize over cuts to government funding, unending technological innovation, coming shifts in our ecosystems, and even about our very security and survival.

“Experts” glibly chastise nonprofits for so many wrongs. We are chasing grant funding, don’t have diverse revenue streams, scorn individual giving, or lack board fundraising.

Yet, the reality is that there are no best or right answers for any nonprofit.

Each must craft its way, unique to its own circumstances and opportunities.

I share the pain of my nonprofit colleagues, having shouldered that  Sisyphean task of revenue generation myself. I marvel that there are any strong spirits left at the end of the day.

Me, I’m still humbled that given all the financial handcuffs nonprofits wear that so many have carved out, no matter how awkwardly, business models that enable their work to continue, some for decades, others for centuries.

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