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How Lean Could Be Key to Furthering Your Nonprofit’s Mission

March 27, 2019

By Victoria Holthaus, CPA

Have you ever felt like your organization was stuck in the mud? This can happen when a funding source dries up, a transition looms, or to-do lists multiply. You know something needs to change in response, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, or figure out how to make it happen. It can be frustrating, to say the least. But here’s the good news: Lean can help.

What is Lean? 
Lean is a business methodology that gained traction in the early 1990s primarily within the automotive industry. Today, its principles can be applied in organizations of all types—even nonprofits!

Generally speaking, Lean provides a framework for continually increasing value (i.e., output the customer truly desires) while eliminating waste. When applied to the types of challenges we mentioned above, it can help pave the way for a refreshing solution. At the essence of Lean is an emphasis on people—on leveraging collective effort for a collaborative approach to solving problems. As you might imagine, this can be especially powerful for mission-driven nonprofits.

Intrigued? Here’s how Lean’s four principles of collective problem solving could free your organization to find new ways of furthering its mission:

1.    See Together
It’s impossible to identify value or eliminate waste in a process without knowing where it is. Lean recognizes the power of many eyes, which comes into focus by looking through a lean lens. Your people, after all, are the ones who are closest to your organization’s processes. Together, they have the power to discern where pain points, disconnects, and duplications—or, on the other hand, great potential—exist.

2.    Understand Together
We’ve all heard the adage “two heads are better than one.” Lean celebrates this and calls for evaluating a situation or challenge as a team. As you find waste in a process, a Lean approach requires your team to come together to determine which waste-reducing experiments to try. This collective, cross-functional effort is critical to framing challenges and refining process improvements.

3.    Act Together
Helping hands can go a long way in designing and implementing new systems. We are creatures of habit; bringing about change can be a daunting task. Undoubtedly, it will create a need for new disciplines and new routines. A successful change can occur only when many hands grasp the oars and row in the same direction.

4.    Improve Together
This principle is especially applicable to nonprofits. Your staff members are committed to furthering a mission and rallying around a purpose greater than themselves. When hearts are engaged, your team is empowered to improve every day. Continually build that improvement muscle to pump the level of impact to even greater heights.

Ready to do more, together? 
Deviating from the status quo may seem like an impossible challenge in itself, but Lean can help you make it happen. As you explore how a Lean approach could benefit your organization, please know we’re here to answer any questions you may have. We are also available to partner with you and rally around this mantra: Collaborate and create a better flowing future. Give chad a call today at 952.449.6241 or email him at

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