Outgrowing Your Facilities And Other Good Nonprofit Problems

We are currently helping a nonprofit form an advisory council. This was one of the recommendations that emerged from an organizational and development assessment that we conducted. Now, we are working with the executive director to implement the recommendations. But, starting an advisory council is hard when the nonprofit’s development income was from very few funders (we are also working to diversify revenue streams).

We pursued a few different paths to find ideal candidates, including a meeting that changed my perspective about a lot of things and most particularly – good problems.

The organization was interested in potential council members from California. Fortunately, I have a cousin – Jon Spack who recently moved from the Bay Area back to Boston. He has spent recent years as an Education Pioneers fellow, followed by years working for Citizen Schools, and Spark, only to find himself back at Education Pioneers – this time as Vice President, Development. As you might imagine, he knows a lot of people who serve and have served on nonprofit boards on both coasts.

He talked about helping to build a board for Spark and the innovative ways they went about getting a large pool of candidates. One such way (which I won’t reveal lest it be used by too many organizations), brought hundreds of people applying to join the board. Wow, I thought, that’s a lot of work. His thought – having too many people applying for the board was a good problem. And in general, he has come to look for good problems.

I have thought about this a lot since that meeting. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the day to day that we forget to add the positive view to what we do. Most of the people who read this work or volunteer with nonprofit organizations. And while they probably have a passion for the mission, they forget that each and every day can bring that reminder of the good work they are trying to do. By not just focusing on the problem but rather why it is a good problem to have.

Here are examples of good problems that we forget are good problems because of the work associated with them:

  • You need a new building because your nonprofit has grown too big for your current space.
  • You are written up in a magazine and your phone and email systems are overloaded with people who want your services or want to support them.
  • You have too many donors to call personally to remind about an event.
  • You have too many volunteers and not enough work for that skill set.
  • You have to decide to scale your organization up because your services are valued and in demand.

These can be the same issues for a synagogue or church, an independent school, a social service agency or any other nonprofit.   But the key is to remember they are good problems. They have to be solved, but consider the alternative. And then consider yourself lucky.