Nonprofits Should Aspire to Be “Nimble, Networked, and Niche”

January 31, 2017; Generocity

Tivoni Devor has written for NPQ before, including the powerful and popular “The Face of Nonprofit Boards: A Network Problem,” but the small, thought-provoking article we cover here comes from Philadelphia’s Generocity. In it, he says that as the large institutions we have taken for granted collapse, we must be ready to replace them with grassroots nonprofits that are nimble and niche and networked to create a more responsive safety net.

Devor quotes filmmaker and activist Valarie Kaur, who wrote, after the election, “This is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb.”

“Crystallizing a service supply chain of small and mid-sized nonprofits all tailored to a local population’s needs can meet or exceed the outcomes of large, bureaucratic, faceless institutions,” he writes. “There is a myriad of small and mid-sized nonprofits that work deep in the trenches every day that you’ve never heard of because they don’t spend any money on marketing or publicity.”

But, he continues, they need to be nimble: “Nimble organizations can keep up with shifting demographics…they can move at the pace of need, while relating that need to funders. In today’s news cycle and the viral nature of outrage, nonprofits that can move fast and tap into that outrage can capture the funding to get the good work done.”

“Large systems with fixed infrastructure, by their very nature,” he goes on, “cannot be nimble. But as we are entering another cycle of uncertainty, the ability to be nimble is a necessity. Nimble orgs that can successfully manage pivots and break free of sunk costs will have the ability to move to into the growing cracks of the safety net—and attract associated funding.”

He concludes by saying, “A fully networked mass of nimble and niche organizations will have the ability to fill the dark void we see unfolding in front of us. Organizations should focus on their service specialties while relying on other nonprofits in a nimble net that can restructure itself to meet the ever-changing needs of the community.”—Ruth McCambridge