• May 2015
Add an event

Untitled Page

Lessons to be learned

As the economy teeters, the best business lessons are coming from an unlikely source – Orange County’s nonprofits.

by steve churmPublished: October 01, 2011

Pam Pimentel is a registered nurse by training. But circumstances and need have transformed her into a savvy business executive willing to dispense timely advice to her peers.
“Any nonprofit that does not consider itself a business will fail. It’s that simple,” says the CEO of Moms Orange County, a Santa Ana-based program offering women pre- and post-natal healthcare. The issues that Pimentel and others operating not-for-profit agencies are staring down every day are no different than those plaguing for-profit companies, with one notable exception: Pimentel’s clients, and those of many of the 12,000-plus nonprofits based here in Orange County, are often on life support.
Many of Moms Orange County’s clients are the poor and the disenfranchised. A bad decision or a string of miscalculations could cripple Pimentel’s agency, and the ripple effect could be heartbreaking for scores of families who count on its services. It is the nature of managing a mission-critical nonprofit that has sharpened the skill sets of Pimentel and her peers to the point that they have become models for sustaining, and even growing, enterprises in this 
unrelenting economy. Managers of non-profits are leading with a bluntness and focus that should be studied and copied.
About a quarter of Orange County’s nonprofits are in the business of human services: food, shelter and medical care. They form the county’s safety net, and coping with the demand for help, shrinking budgets and wafer-thin staffs has created a nearly impossible management scenario. But Douglas Freeman, founder of National Philanthropy Day, is heartened by the resiliency of these agencies and, most importantly, the leadership.
“Real stress is trying to meet payroll, find volunteers and keep morale high, when the line out the door at the food pantry never ends,” says Freeman. “It takes discipline.”
Nearly four years of uncertainty and economic gyrations have taught nonprofits many lessons, and those in other industries should take note:

• Relationships
Never take a single donor, partner or vendor for granted.

• Appreciation.
You can never say “thank you” enough.

• Mission focus
The days of being everything to everyone in need have ended. Shrinking budgets have forced agencies to focus on what they do best, even at the cost of cutting some programs. No more “mission creep.”

• Toughness
In an industry built on caring and compassion, getting tough and disciplined when it comes to running a business is mandatory.

• Collaboration
No single individual has the corner on innovation. Every stakeholder has a voice and a requirement to find the answers.

• Loyalty
There is no time or place for insubordination once a decision has 
been made. Get on board or find a new business address.

These are hardly new management strategies, but nonprofits preoccupied with human services have not always followed them. That is changing. O.C.’s nonprofits predict a new era of stronger, better-managed and more effective agencies. As a business owner, I’m watching – and learning.