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Trainer, Teams Designer, ENFJ. I train agile multidisciplinary teams for business and social changemakers.

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Nonprofit Business Model Design

Bryann AlexandrosBryann Alexandros

Testing assumptions is as cliched of a phrase as it gets. That's because it's actually true. First, let's talk about trends and how you can use the nBMC

(Updated July 20th: This is an evergreen post on getting started with the Nonprofit Business Model Canvas for strategic planning endeavors. Bookmark this page for updates!)

Everything is moving at such a rapid rate, it's up to organizations to move along with it and capture any chances of riding that wave.

Look at the whole Pokemon GO thing: it's not just a one-hit novelty, it's a massive cultural shift, thanks to augmented reality and the company Niantic who has been incubating this project for years.

Businesses and nonprofits within the first few weeks were quick enough to be first-movers to ride that initial wave and use it to 1) Capture attention and 2) Amplify the value they were already bringing to their customers, constituents, and audiences; lots of people knew how to surf that first wave. Others are still thinking about it.

Take a look at Facebook's ever-shifting Instant Articles product. Facebook is like the 2nd layer of the internet itself. Just about everything in everyone's daily life is interwoven with Facebook.

We also know how crucial Facebook is for mission-driven organizations.

We also know how the world's eyeballs traverse through Facebook via Mobile for just about everything.

Wherever eyeballs go, attention goes.

We post articles on Facebook that link back to our website, but data shows that an astonishing majority of visitors access it using a mobile device. If a webpage doesn't load within eight seconds, users back out. Every one of those opportunities to incite action is wasted.

The average news story takes an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/business/news/Facebook-Instant-Articles-rolls-out-across-Asia

According to Facebook, Instant Articles load 10X faster than standard mobile web articles. 20% more Instant Articles read on average. And 70% of visitors are less likely to abandon the article. There is massive leverage and improvement for nonprofits to make here especially if they're churning content out on a regular basis.

Now, second point: So what then?

You just never know what trends loom on the horizon.

The question is always this as I talk with leaders and staff: "How long does it actually take for you to seize opportunities from new developments?"

I don't think this is a matter of "not having time." It's more an issue of having the culture and capacity and systems and processes to collectively act on it.

I get that change isn't just something you decide and turn on. You don't just step into a ring and start doing battle with your opponent. You really have to calculate risks, understand the bets you're about to make, think about new training to undertake, and think about the ripple effects of any additions, subtractions, and changes you make to the rest of your organization. That's what collaborative leadership is about.

Funny how mission-driven publications talk about big-scale "collaboration" without taking into account how to do at a small scale first. Like, that makes no sense.

The Nonprofit Business Model Canvas (nBMC) helps you do that. It's a visual framework for understanding the basic nine building blocks and seeing how the nonprofit's time, energy, and money flows through it all.

It's a remix of the original Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder and Strategyzer. I reauthored it to give a better fit the logic of mission-driven organizations. This is a reiterative project.

"I'm new and want to start using this immediately."

I want to make this as actionable and tactical as possible.

So if you're a nonprofit leader, staff member, or consultant/practitioner in the field (or you're just curious), you can download the nonprofit version of the canvas first.

Download the nBMC

This rapid prototyping tool is predicated on the fact that strategy needs to come before budgeting. Strategic thinking is an inherent act of creative inquiry so you need to understand WHY you're taking a step in a new or modified direction, before you start funneling resources there.

Roger Martin, author of Playing to Win and former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, says this about strategy:

Strategy is not planning — it is the making of an integrated set of choices that collectively position the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns. I find that once this is made clear to line managers they recognize that strategy is not just fancily-worded budgeting and they get much more interested in it.

link: https://hbr.org/2013/02/dont-let-strategy-become-plann/

With that said, I uploaded some videos to help you get started with the nBMC so that you can align new (and maybe risky ideas) with your north star.

Watch them in this order:

The Nonprofit Business Model Canvas [Better Version + WALKTRHOUGH]

Using Epicenters to Solve Nonprofit Business Model Problems

Use the Nonprofit Business Model Canvas to Pitch New Ideas

8 Questions for Testing Assumptions in Your Nonprofit Business Model (+ 4 actions)

The entire playlist can be found here. (don't forget to subscribe to my channel. I'm always releasing capacity-training vids)

That's it! I don't want to make this too long. I want you to start using this right away. Leave questions, feedback, or insights below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Do I need to buy the book?

Yes, but only if you're absolutely new to business models etc. While it's more catered towards the for-profit side, the core thinking and material is transferable to the mission-driven side of things too. It's a good manual to have on your shelves.

I've had the books for years, however over time, I've seen why sometimes the manual has become inactionable for many. I'll touch on this another time. Just know that the canvas is the real meat of things. :)

Q. Do you support using the online generation tools of the canvas?

I have mixed feelings about using online tools that generate prototypes. It depends on your goals. If you're by yourself, you can absolutely generate prototypes on your own.

I want to reiterate that serious business model design is a multi-disciplinary task. Everyone from CxOs to front-line staff need to get involved.

Also, there's the issue of doing some pre-collaborative work in framing what the initial challenge is. What problems are you trying to solve? Do you have consensus from the top that those really are problems you need to focus on?

One massive reason why these DIY business model design projects fail is because the tools are isolated from the broader task of framing your challenges, and then choosing the focus, before generating ideas to attack it. (aka business model prototypes)

Nonprofits typically do some kind of strategic planning work to flesh this out. I on the other hand have something different for this. Watch Challenge Mapping > SWOT Charts.

Steve Blank, Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany, says "get out of the building" which means you gotta go out in the actual world and deeply empathize with customers and clients, but you need to do this with your own crew/team.

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Trainer, Teams Designer, ENFJ. I train agile multidisciplinary teams for business and social changemakers.