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The Critical Role a Nonprofit Business Model Plays in Guiding Your Fatherhood Program

Posted by Erik Vecere

I receive many phone calls and emails from people looking to either partner, provide a service, solve a problem, or address a father-related crisis. These people can range from state-level administrators, to social service agency directors, to program facilitators, to a struggling father. The challenge that I face on any given day is the same that we all face: how do I prioritize the requests and opportunities and make decisions that will most effectively accomplish the mission of my organization?

The Critical Role a Nonprofit Business Model Plays in Guiding Your Fatherhood Program

Fortunately, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has developed a very specific nonprofit business model that drives our decisions on a daily basis. I can review our nonprofit business model canvas (here's one example of a business model canvas) throughout my day to gauge how well the opportunities and tasks line up with our customer/partner value propositions, customer/partner segment focus, key resources, key activities, key channels, and revenue streams. 

This canvas is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. But as nonprofit leaders, we have an added complexity. Grant Smith, of Innovative Nonprofit, describes it this way:

Regular for-profit business has one main type of customer or client, one that receives products or services in exchange for payment. The business then uses the revenue to pay for administrative expenses, marketing, salaries, etc., and everything else production related. In a regular for-profit business, the person who pays is also the person who receives the product or service. But, in a nonprofit the traditional client is split into two: the donor client and the beneficiary client. One pays and the other receives the product or service. This division creates a business logistics problem. You now have two people for every one that a regular business has.

In a regular business, the client or customer has one reason for dealing with you, to satisfy their wants and needs. However with a nonprofit, that client is now split in two, each desiring to have their individual wants and needs be satisfied. To achieve that, a nonprofit needs to incur differently oriented costs, perform different activities, market to each differently and measure the success of each relationship differently. In essence, nonprofits need two different, yet complementary, business models.

When you look at it that way, it is easy to see why we struggle to implement and sustain effective fatherhood programs. On the one hand, we have to translate the importance of responsible fatherhood into clear examples of how it will address the focal areas of the funders, while on the other manage the delivery of services in a way that meets the fathers’ critical issues.

This dynamic also highlights how important a nonprofit business model canvas is to the life of your organization. A canvas provides a clear and objective benchmark to quickly test whether you and other staff are putting the right amount of time, energy, and resources in the right partnerships and activities. You can learn more details about the process and some great examples of how to create a Nonprofit Business Model Canvas here.

Once your canvas is set, you can then focus on the integration of it into your own daily tasks and those of your direct reports. This tool can help you and other staff avoid getting caught up in the wave of demands and activities that may seem important at first glance, but upon further examination don’t tie in directly to your organization’s goals and priorities.

In our line of work, we usually err on the side of saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way. However, the most important and powerful word we can learn to use is “no.” Your canvas will help you know when to use it.

Start creating your Nonprofit Business Model Canvas using the examples here.

Question: As a leader, how do you know when to say "yes" and when to say "no"? 

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