Take a Risk to Be Part of Something Great

by | Feb 19, 2020

How do nonprofit organizations you support get better at what they are doing? How do they learn their way into new, better, or improved services? The big question is how do you help them change the world?

Can you expand your services?

A state agency asked the local nonprofit executive director to expand their services to include a younger population. The work is in its mission. But they will need local donor support to make the expansion.

Any ED and nonprofit’s board of directors worth investing our donor dollars with should be looking into the future when asked such questions. They have to balance the cost of new services with the long-term cost of sustaining them.

And then there’s the risk of success.

Success is very risky. It may not be as successful as they hoped, or not at all. In a perfect world, the new idea, program or service is highly successful. And then there’s the cost of what follows the success.

Today’s donors often tell me they want their donations to go toward organizations that are making a difference. They want the organization to be efficient and effective.

Occasionally, a donor says they are drawn toward risk, but defining what that means is risky itself. It means exposing your donation to an unsuccessful outcome, neither efficient or effective.

From years of medical research to Edison’s 99 tries to invent the lightbulb, I can’t think of any life-changing, world-changing idea, invention, gadget, or thingamajig that just happened.

Henry Ford, one of America’s greatest inventors, no stranger to risk after failing five times in previous businesses, started number six, the Ford Motor Co. The company was built on risk to follow Ford’s dream of affordable automobiles, slashing prices and increasing the minimum wages paid to Ford workers. He risked losing one more company on his way to reaching the masses with the Model T.

Nonprofit organizations dream of change, know how to make services better but lack the funds to do it.

For those few donors who are willing to step into unknown territory and risk their support to change the world, there is reason to step cautiously.

Answer these questions before you write a check.

  • Does the organization have the capacity to add a new program, improve services, add new client populations, or push into new geographic areas?
  • Do they have a well thought out plan?
  • Are there other donors willing to come on board to join in the risk?
  • Are success measures in place to track the work over time: short-term, intermediary, and long-term?
  • Is the board of directors fully on board, and has the leadership depth needed for the job?

You’ve made it through these five questions. You’re confident the organization is up to the task.

Answer Two Very Important Questions.

  • Is the nonprofit organization a learning organization? Even more important than taking the risk, are they willing to learn from any mistakes and correct as they go?
  • Are you willing to hang in there with them for a few years while they figure it out?

Risk is taking a chance, risking loss – seeing a positive outcome just as possible as the negative outcome.

The greatest outcome of any risk is to learn how far you can go.

T.S. Elliot, the famed poet, said it this way: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”

Suggestions to help you find the risk you most want to join.

  • Make a list of several things you most want to see changed.
  • Look for one or more organizations doing that work. Preferably several so you can pick the one most prepared to take the risk and can invest in the work long enough to learn.
  • Find a few charitable friends to get on board with you.

Who could have changed the world any more than Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook? He said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Many nonprofits are looking for a few incredible donors willing to step into the risk with them. Does our community deserve something better? Will the world be better?

Questions only you can answer.

Like it? Use it. Share it. Comment below.


  1. t michaeal ogg sr

    Lots of questions to answer, as always an article with real MEAT!!

  2. Tom Lowery

    Enjoyed this week’s post.


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