National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives (NANOE) and Bridgespan Group are working together to identify successful nonprofit business models.

Sep 5, 2017

Kathleen Robinson and Brian Burwell have announced that the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives (NANOE) and the Bridgespan Group will collaborate to identify the core capabilities of proven nonprofit business models.

Brian Burwell of the Bridgespan Group and Kathleen Robinson of NANOE announced today that the two organizations will collaborate together to identify the core capabilities of proven nonprofit business models. Senior level charitable executives will be invited to participate in an ONLINE SURVEY STUDY to discover what's working and what's not.

C-Suite level nonprofit leaders may visit here to participate:

In talking with the leaders of nonprofit organizations across the sector, there is a single truism that under-girds all conversations: limits on overhead create a pressure that deeply impacts the choices and trade-offs leaders wrestle with every day. Bridgespan has spent the last decade hearing this story from nonprofit leaders, and in turn, working with funders to counter the “overhead myth.”

2016 research from Bridgespan sought to understand: what really are the true indirect costs (or “overhead”) of nonprofit organizations? They examined the financials of 20 well-known, well-funded nonprofits to understand their true overhead costs, and came to what should have been an unsurprising conclusion. Indirect costs varied significantly across organizations (between 21% and 89% of direct costs), and much of that variation in cost structures seems to be driven by the organizations’ business models. Advocacy organizations, for example, had very different overhead requirements than direct service providers.

This type of insight is intuitive, when reflect upon. The public does not expect companies in the private sector to behave similarly or have similar cost structures. They don’t expect pharmaceutical companies to invest in their capabilities in the same way that retail businesses do. So, why are nonprofit organizations expected to work all the same way?

All nonprofits are not the same; the sector is actually a set of many unique business models, each of which offers different strategic choices and opportunities for organizations to achieve the impact they seek.

That’s why Bridgespan and NANOE are asking leaders to participate in a survey that will identify the core business models and key capabilities of charitable organizations.

Recognizing the different business models in the sector can provide powerful insights. Nonprofit leaders, once recognizing the business models their organization uses, can begin to answer critical strategic questions like: Which business models drive the most value and achieve goals? Which capabilities are most critical? What peers and benchmarks should be reviewed in order to comprehend true success?

In collaboration with thought leaders, practitioners, and partners like NANOE, Bridgespan is spearheading an ambitious endeavor to identify the common business models across the nonprofit sector, and the core capabilities of each. Not just provide a taxonomy, but to bring powerful insights to bear, to help nonprofit leaders make more informed strategic choices, and to enable and embolden conversations with funders around investment in critical capabilities.

To ensure this analysis represents the needs, voices, and diversity of the nonprofit sector, executives are being asked to participate in a field-wide survey of nonprofit leaders. This survey must capture as many voices as possible. Breaking the norm of treating all nonprofits the same and equipping leaders with tools to build more impactful and financially resilient organizations is the purpose of this project.

Brian Burwell is a partner at The Bridgespan Group. Kathleen Robinson is NANOE's Program Director. To learn more about Kathleen please visit

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