Non-Profits: What’s Your End-Game?

There’s the saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. In today’s blog post, two experienced development consultants challenge non-profits to articulate their end-game if their goal is impact. Andrew Stern, Executive Director of the Global Development Incubator and a Partner at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, and Alice Gugelev, Director of the Global Development Incubator’s Social Enterprise Accelerator and founder of, developed a 12-page report on the different types of end-games non-profits may choose. Read below for a segment of their article!

Which end-game does your organization choose? Do you agree with this approach?

We propose that all nonprofits define not only their mission, vision, and five and ten-year intended impact, but also something just as critically important: their End-Game. To determine their End-Game, nonprofits can begin by thinking about the characteristics of the social problem they address and the key aspects of the model they use. In the end, if a nonprofit’s true goal is impact, it will define an End-Game as early as possible, and intentionally pursue it (for more details, view the chart).

End-Game 1: Open Source

A nonprofit that chooses an Open-Source End-Game invests in research and development to develop or refine an idea. Then, the organization invests in disseminating the idea through an open-source approach, or sometimes through advocacy efforts.

End-Game 2: Replication

Nonprofits with a Replication End-Game are replicating their product or model, but not their organization. The organization needs to demonstrate the efficacy of its approach, but also recognize that other organizations could deliver the program.

End-Game 3: Government Adoption

Government Adoption is the third possible End-Game. This model requires that a nonprofit prove the concept, demonstrate it can be delivered at some level of scale, and mobilize significant advocacy efforts to influence policies and budgets.

End-Game 4: Commerical Adoption

The nonprofit with a Commercial Adoption End-Game aims to address a market failure or, often, a market inefficiency such as uncertainty or lack of information. This model is best when a nonprofit organization with a social mission (and grant funding) can solve problems of production or delivery that are at first prohibitively high in start-up costs for commercial interests.

End-Game 5: Mission Achievement

A nonprofit using the Mission Achievement model has a defined and achievable goal, in both outcome and geography. If the nonprofit achieves its goal, it should wind down.

End-Game 6: Sustained Service

Sustained Service seems to be the default End-Game for most nonprofits – though it is not always the right one. The Sustained Service model makes sense when nonprofits are satisfying a public need that the commercial or public sectors will not fill.

What does this mean for non-profits and foundations? Each of the six End-Game options outlined above comes with a defined life cycle and budget trajectory from start-up, proof-of-concept, and scale, to steady-state and, ultimately, exit. After a proof-of-concept and a minimum level of scale are achieved, budgets should shift depending on which End-Game a nonprofit pursues – and only in the Sustained Service model would budgets continue to increase:

EndGameChart4Nonprofit leaders need to define their End-Game early, and funders need to adjust their practices to help them get there.

Perhaps at no time in history have the social innovator, the social disrupter, and the social entrepreneur held so much potential. The next-generation purpose-driven professionals are here, equipped with technology for the development of new business models, big data to identify new opportunities, and social media to mobilize action. Recognizing the inherent structural challenges of the nonprofit sector – that there is no ownership or equity, and no rational “social capital market” – it is imperative that social sector organization leaders and funders start a dialogue about the End-Game to achieve the true promise of social sector work.

Read the full article here and learn more about the What’s Your End-Game? initiative here.

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