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Nonprofit Lifecycles

Circular graphic showing the steps of the nonprofit lifecycle using the metaphor of an acorn growing into a tree.

Just as people grow and change over time, nonprofits also move through developmental periods, commonly referred to as “Lifecycle Stages.” Identifying where your nonprofit stands – which lifecycle stage you’re in – can help you make the most of growth opportunities and anticipate the challenges that lie ahead.

Answers to common nonprofit management questions differ based on your lifecycle stage. To find helpful information, tools, resources, and services relevant to you in the following pages, identify the lifecycle stage that most closely resembles your organization’s situation.

 

FIND YOUR LIFECYCLE STAGE

LIFECYCLE STAGE
KEY CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIVITIES
STARTUP
  • Your organization’s founders are developing the idea, gaining support, and applying for tax-exempt status for your nonprofit.
  • Your organization is run by volunteers and has no paid staff.
GROWTH
  • Your nonprofit has launched and is “on the map.” Your programs and funding streams are expanding.
  • Building infrastructure and formalized processes become necessary.
  • You hire your first paid employee(s).
  • “Outsiders” – people who are not your friends or family – join the board.
  • You rent your first office space.
  • You are beginning to implement administrative systems and have a few in place already.
PEAK PERFORMANCE
  • Your organization’s programs and fundraising are functioning at a high level.
  • Original founders have rotated off the board of directors, and the board is diverse.
  • Administrative systems are well-developed.
  • Your nonprofit’s focus is on increasing the quality, scale, and impact of your activities.
  • Your organization is collaborative and provides leadership in the community and the nonprofit sector.
DECLINE/CRISIS
  • Your organization is facing crises in key areas.
  • You are experiencing repeated leadership turnover, loss of major funding, or a fractured board.
RENEWAL
  • Your nonprofit is in a time of reflection, reinvention, and rebuilding.
  • Renewal can be brought about by an executive transition, change in strategic focus, or change in your relationship to the community.

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