On every commercial airline before takeoff, passengers receive rote instructions on flight safety:

“If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own oxygen mask first, and then assist the other person.”

This concept — helping yourself before helping others — is a valuable lesson and one that nonprofit leaders should imbue into their organizational framework. Organizations must secure their own oxygen masks. How? By focusing on sustainability first, and then increasing impact.

“Building organizational capacity” is a buzzword promise many of us splash across our communications, marketing collateral, strategic plans, etc. But despite its reputation as an indispensable goal, building organizational capacity remains an abstract ambition for many organizations, and it competes with other high-priority initiatives, such as developing new programs to create further impact.

The current outcomes-obsessed funding model has organizations wired toward making investment decisions based on clearly defined and fast deliverables that demonstrate impact. But the reality is, impact is fleeting. Increasing an organization’s impact does not guarantee sustainability. The constant expansion of new programs too often puts an organization’s core health — its financial stability — at risk, and the money meant to fund new programs ends up having to fill the gaps caused by neglecting internal infrastructure and financial health.

An organization must reflect upon its long-term needs as well as outcomes when creating a strategic plan. It must also consider the many components of organizational capacity. The following are vital components that contribute to an organization’s success:

Mission, vision, and strategy are the driving forces that give the organization its purpose and direction. Governance and leadership represent the lubricant that keeps all parts aligned and moving. The organization’s governance and leadership need to be engaged and representative, with well-defined governance functions.

Read the full article about nonprofit organizational capacity by Emily Brush at BoardSource.