What is the Bottom Line When There is No “Bottom Line”?

It’s really easy in non-profit work to believe that everybody should be as excited about your cause as you are. Whether it’s a church, cause-driven organization, or international missions effort, leaders of these organizations are usually convinced they’re doing good work and they’re doing God’s work.

So if the work is so noble, why doesn’t the money to support these efforts flow freely? 

While there isn’t a single answer to this question, I do believe legendary management expert Peter Drucker offers some valuable insights for non-profits. He asks the question, “What is the bottom line when there is no ‘bottom line’?”

Non-profits cannot be reckless…making their cause “everything.” Furthermore, non-profits must avoid the temptation to go after easy results and seek easy donations for popular causes that ultimately drive them outside of their mission. Drucker argues that non-profits must “define the performance that makes the mission of their institution operational…Performance means concentrating available resources where the results are. It does not mean making promises you can’t live up to.”

Performance metrics in business are obviously different than those in the non-profit world. Drucker observed, “In a business, performance is what the customer is willing to pay for. The non-profit does not get paid for performance. But it does not get money for good intentions, either.”

Non-profits need to determine what their bottom line is and focus their energy and resources in that direction. Just because they’re doing good work does not mean money will walk itself in the door to fund the cause. Good intentions are not enough. Clearly define the bottom line and focus your performance accordingly.

Question: What’s the bottom line of your non-profit? How do you measure performance?