Ambitious for Good

scale nonprofits

Altruist Partners‘ integrated suite of planning, finance and execution strategies and tools work to scale nonprofits, enabling clients large and small, local and global to achieve and sustain dramatic increases in performance, revenue and impact. In this SEA member spotlight, they share their innovative approach to scaling impact:

After a decade of practice as a professional fundraiser for a variety of nonprofits both large and small, our founder, Donald Summers, built an unusually strong track record, consistently generating annual revenue increases for his organizations of over 100%. He points to his training in business and finance as the reason.


I saw most charities raising money on emotional appeal using low-ROI efforts like auctions and mailings. I saw an opportunity to use a more straightforward business process, treating charitable fundraising like raising capital for a business. But instead of getting money back, investors would get something even better: significance. We would approach successful people, and show them how to become significant people driving good in the world. We were very concrete and quantified, and used the business concepts, tools and language they were already familiar with. It was all so much more successful than the tired capital campaign model, charity auctions and the like, and I realized it could be packaged and scaled.


To scale this way of treating nonprofits like scalable businesses, Donald Summers founded Altruist Partners LLC, or Altruist, in 2006 with an audacious goal: show nonprofits how to run, perform and scale at achievement levels historically associated only with for-profits.


When nonprofits aren’t aware of the management and financial tools and strategies that have long driven organizational performance and growth, their organizations struggle with funding and performance. There are well over 1 million nonprofits in the US alone, but most are tiny – $500K is the average annual budget. While the problems they are addressing are huge, fewer than 200 have scaled past $50 million in annual revenue in the last 50 years. But 70,000 for-profits have.


Altruist has developed an integrated planning, financial and execution platform that any nonprofit can adopt in as quickly as six months, at far lower cost than traditional management consultancy rates. We join our clients’ management team as fractional executives—not consultants. We do the actual work of business planning, financial modeling and forecasting, creating strategy, metrics and milestones. And then we implement everything – it’s a highly rigorous, disciplined approach based in best practices common to all high performing teams of people.


One of our favorite success stories is Treehouse, a support agency for foster children here in Seattle. They hired us to help them achieve an audacious goal: to increase graduation rates of every foster child in 125 schools across our city from 40% to 80% in five years. We worked with them to develop a business plan, revise their program model, focus their fundraising and adopt discipline execution methodologies. As a result, in a few short years they’ve grown their service area by 400%, increased staff from 75 to 150, increased their budget from $6 to $12m and most importantly of all, hit their graduation rate target. Today, every foster youth in grades six through twelve in all middle and high schools in greater Seattle receives comprehensive, customized educational support at a cost of approximately $6K per student—and graduation rates for the population are up 40%. It’s an example of a nonprofit saturating a market with an effective solution, and it shows what’s possible when business principles and practices are harnessed in service of a nonprofit mission. Today, Altruist is counseling Treehouse as it faces its next growth milestone: statewide expansion.


We’ve helped scale nonprofits of all types, allowing them to achieve growth and performance rates typically only seen in the private sector. Our clients are as diverse as the sector itself – in fields as diverse as environmental certifications, early childhood education, independent schools, public radio stations. But all of them share the necessary prerequisite: courage. They seek to succeed, to solve problems, not just survive. And they are willing to learn and apply the disciplined practices of high performance enterprises to get there.


Now we have the job to reach scale ourselves and serve the many thousands of good organizations that need this help. Today we are a boutique in Seattle, but with new offices set to open in Washington, DC and London, we are entering a growth phase that, if successful, will put us in every large city around the world. Because there are great nonprofits and social enterprises everywhere, we need them to fulfill their complete promise and potential.


So we’re delighted to be new members at the Social Enterprise Alliance. SEA does so much to foster the marriage between the mechanics of business and programs that do so much good in the world. We are ready to contribute what we’ve learned and bring new members into this community. It’s one were everyone understands that for-profits are awesome, but they also need to be for-people and for-planet. And that non-profits can drop the non- thinking and act like disciplined, ambitious enterprises to create the world we need.

To learn more about Altruist, visit their website and SEA member profile.

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