7 Traits of a Successful Non-profit Organization

Non-profit organizations collect almost two trillion dollars in annual donations. These entities provide services for people in need and some operate in a noteworthy fashion. The most successful institutions elect competent leadership, practice transparency and use technology to operate more efficiently.

7 Traits of a Successful Non-profit Organization

Non-profit Organizations in the United States

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes 26 various non-profit formations. Well-known organizations such as the United Way, the Salvation Army and the YMCA accept donations to promote various causes such as charity, education, science, religion and art. With their generosity, patrons help others and as an added benefit may enjoy tax write-offs for their contributions.

Non-profit groups use the contributions to support their corresponding causes and operating expenses. To qualify as a tax-exempt or 501(c)(3) entity, the founders incorporate the enterprise. However, there are non-profit organizations that are not incorporated. Regardless of size or organizational structure, the most successful nonprofits share several traits.

Trait 1: Clear Objectives

Effective non-profit organizations clearly state their mission and purpose for all interested parties. The agencies limit their scope to a specific cause and publish printed documentation detailing their goals and charitable work. Anyone who sees or hears the organization’s promotional messages can easily understand the group’s purpose.

Trait 2: Operational Effectiveness

Successful non-profit organizations operate effectively by following their published agendas and engaging with beneficiaries. These organizations produce quantifiable results and utilize resources efficiently in addition to serving community needs and carefully monitoring for related future issues.

Trait 3: Passionate and Skilled Volunteers

Qualified staff members are the key to non-profit organizational effectiveness. Successful non-profit groups employ volunteers from diverse backgrounds who are passionate about the cause they are supporting. Top performing organizations also seek out highly qualified board members and executive directors that are equally passionate about the cause.

The board of directors and organizational leaders make sure enough individuals volunteer to manage the tasks required for daily operation. These leaders understand that they must invest in recruitment and focus on social impact rather than solely on donation volume or contracting sources.

Trait 4: Formalized and Regulated Operations

Led by well-qualified executives, successful non-profit organizations effectively monitor and control operations by following clearly defined, transparent policies that ensure proper conduct and management. The organizations use a democratic system to elect the board of directors who serve limited terms. The directors routinely and regularly assess program effectiveness and fundraising results, commit all agendas to writing and hold designated individuals responsible for completing tasks.

Trait 5: Planning and Effectiveness Monitoring

Successful non-profit organizations annually review and revise their strategies in addition to welcoming input from those that they serve. The staff members report on accomplishments and successful outcomes regularly. These organizations have a solid reputation with similar organizations, and others recognize the foundation, leaders and volunteers as leading cause advocates.

Trait 6: Persuasive and Inspiring

Successful non-profit organizations rally many like-minded individuals and groups to support their cause. These foundations effectively spread awareness about their cause to the right constituents and, as a result, procure resources to help the community. Internally, the leaders have established relationships with government and private sector contacts and lobby for policies that will further societal well-being. The organizations serve as a beacon among supporters and attract advocates that help further goodwill.

Trait 7: Collective Leadership

Within these organizations, several individuals share leadership and work together to serve benefactors. Although nonprofit leaders must persuasively influence others, they can be surprisingly humble, strategic and innovative. They support their cause effectively by delegating responsibilities to qualified volunteers and work closely with individuals qualified to act as their representative. Effective nonprofit leaders remain with the same organization for an extended period, even decades, and participate in volunteer activities and anticipate other board members will follow the same practices.

Outlook for Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations have common challenges. Our government and communities increasingly depend on non-profit organizations; many are funded primarily through government contracts to supplement community donations that can fall short of the amounts required to meet government and community expectations. They must gather resources from a shrinking donor pool, stretching the services that the public needs to fit the resources that are available.
Because nonprofit organizations act as agents for others, public accountability is essential. As a result, non-profit organizations are working diligently to provide easily understood and complete information regarding the benefits that they are contributing to our society. To make this information more accessible, nonprofit organizations are increasing their use of visual aids and using relatively new technologies, such as social media and data analysis, to spread their messages. This is in addition to the required reporting to the government.
Non-profit organizations provide direct resources for their beneficiaries. They help people to obtain important services that recipients may have difficulty accessing on their own. Over one and a half million non-profit organizations operate in the United States, and the most successful organizations follow the seven traits listed above.

Learn More

By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who want to become effective managers and civic leaders who affect change through policy management and advocacy.


Quick Facts About Nonprofits. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from Quick Facts About Nonprofits. Retrieved January 31, 2017.

Barrett, W. P. (2016, December 14). The largest U.S. Charities for 2016. Forbes. Retrieved from Barrett, W. P. (2016, December 14). The largest U.S. Charities for 2016. Forbes.

Crutchfield, L. R., & Grant, H. M. (2012, July 30). The Six practices of high-impact Nonprofits. Fast Company. Retrieved from Crutchfield, L. R., & Grant, H. M. (2012, July 30). The Six practices of high-impact Nonprofits. Fast Company.

What is a nonprofit organization? (2002). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from What is a nonprofit organization? (2002). Retrieved January 31, 2017.

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