6 Do’s and Don’t’ s for Disrupting Your Nonprofit

Yesterday, I was looking at the website for my husband’s marketing firm (theamplifiergroup.com in case you need marketing advice) and we got into a long discussion about the word “disruptor.” For those who have worked in nonprofits too long or have had their heads in the sand, disruptor is what every new business wants to be.  To quote a Forbes article:

Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.

Who are disruptors? Airbnb changed the way people visit the world. WeWork altered the way people work “from home.” And, Lyft and Uber turned a stable taxi industry into an obsolete system.

Now it’s time to consider how you can start disrupting your nonprofit in an industry that is afraid that making any substantial changes will decrease donations and therefore should not be made.


  1. Look across the country (and around the world) to see what others are doing. If you are a social service agency, see what they are doing at similar organizations in places that already value disruption (i.e. Silicon Valley) or other countries that have similar problems (youth in need of afterschool activities) and see if you can find ideas that will positively change the way you are doing things.
  2. Build “disrupting your nonprofit” into your strategic plan. For example, congregations, of almost all faiths, have been offering the same model to their communities for hundreds of years. At the same time, our world is changing faster than we can imagine.  Set aside time to think strategically about the wildest ways that you can serve your population – “be destructive and creative.” Whether or not you come up with one idea that seems possible, you will start a conversation that may just save your congregation or nonprofit down the line.
  3. Increase the number donors to your organization. Of course, you want more major donors so that you have more funding, but if you need another reason, the more major donors you have, the less the loss of one of these gems will impact on your bottom line. In other words, if asking major donors for advice is part of your fundraising strategy (and it should be) you will also have to deal with donors who voiced an opinion and are not getting what they want. You may be able to retain their support, but the fear of losing a donor should not impede progress.


  1. Don’t use excuses to stay the same. If you are a large, well-funded nonprofit or a small under-funded agency, you will probably come up with excuses. Not enough staff, lack of major donor support and a board afraid of change may top your list, but that will not help you survive the changes that inevitably come. Government funding changes with administrations, corporate money changes with new leadership and major donors’ priorities shift over time. Nothing is going to stay the same around you, so don’t try to remain the same either. Start figuring out how disrupting your nonprofit can help you achieve your mission.
  2. Don’t make changes unless they increase efficiency and effectiveness. That means don’t make change for change’s sake. Instead, view change as a process to ensure the sustainability of the organization well into the future.
  • Blackberry and Nokia didn’t think Apple would ever replace them in most of their markets. They thought they were producing a product that people liked enough. The disruptor, the IPhone, was so much better they easily overtook the market.
  • A food bank may not be afraid of being replaced, but can think about whether there is a better way to collect, store, and distribute food. Could they use the same resources for better results by thinking so far outside the box they can’t even see the shape anymore? You don’t know until you consider your options.
  1. Don’t be afraid. Change is scary but it is inevitable.  If you shift your organization proactively, it can be a positive experience. If you are only reactive to shifts in the world around you, you can end up being forced to make decisions under pressure and with limited options.  And unless you are very lucky, decisions made in this way can leave you in a place that will anger or hurt your clientele/members, volunteers, donors and/or staff.

Are you ready to be a disruptor and start disrupting your nonprofit? Or maybe the question should be, are you are ready to be disrupted?  Either way, look towards the future.  And, let us know if Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help.