Since 2020, many progressive nonprofits in the United States have experienced something unprecedented: unplanned, rapid, substantial growth. A combination of unexpected funding, including pandemic relief and a rise in mega-donors, and intensified calls for change in response to events like the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the systematic targeting of human rights have led to a boom for numerous racial and social justice organizations. Some have seen increases of more than 200 percent.

But while sudden outpourings of support bring great opportunity, they also bring risks. In our work with rapidly growing nonprofits, through our BUILDing for Growth program and other strategy development work at La Piana Consulting, we have identified two particularly acute risk types. The first is performance failure, where an organization can’t effectively put the additional funds to good use, account for them, stay responsive to funders and beneficiaries, and get things done. The second is sustainability, where an organization struggles when the influx of new money ends. As one nonprofit leader astutely identified, “I know we are a trending topic now, and I also am aware that tomorrow, this is likely to shift, but our mission will still be as relevant and important to social justice.”

With the right mindset and careful planning, however, nonprofit leaders can safeguard their organizations against performance and sustainability risks while seeding future success.

Recently, we asked 60-plus leaders of rapid-growth organizations what they would recommend to other leaders who received large, unrestricted gifts. Five clear themes emerged.

  1. Take a deep breath and pace yourself.
  2. Build a thoughtful, visionary plan.
  3. Make purposeful internal investments.
  4. Develop messaging that brings others along.
  5. Plan for financial sustainability.

Read the full article about unrestricted funds for nonprofits by Humberto Camarena at Stanford Social Innovation Review.