Vail Centre column: Entrepreneurial culture needed in nonprofit groups |

Vail Centre column: Entrepreneurial culture needed in nonprofit groups

Ross Iverson
The Vail Centre
Ross Iverson
Special to the Daily |

Nonprofits tend to attract certain types of people to their organizations: compassionate, caring, hard-working and mission-driven. But organizations also need to think about adding “entrepreneurs” to their ranks. We see a lot of focus on entrepreneurs in other industries — especially the tech world — but we don’t often talk about entrepreneurship as it applies to nonprofits and charitable organizations.

Hiring entrepreneurs can be an asset for nonprofits. Philanthropic businesses need a team of dedicated workers who are brainstorming new ways to solve problems, alongside continuing the current objectives of the organization. Nonprofits need workers with a take charge attitude — those who will challenge how things typically operate and come up with new ways organizations can make progress.

key differences

However, there are a few differences between being an entrepreneur in the nonprofit world versus being an entrepreneur in the corporate world:

• Success and growth doesn’t mean the same thing for nonprofits and for-profit companies. Most businesses are driven by the need to make money, whereas charitable organizations must measure progress in different ways. Nonprofits do need to meet fundraising goals, but they also need to find other metrics by which to access their own advancement. Entrepreneurs who start nonprofits won’t see the monetary recognition for their work compared to a for-profit endeavor, so they need to come up with goals that align with their altruistic intentions.

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• Nonprofit entrepreneurs have a different background and skill level than corporate hires. Recent studies examining the demographics of nonprofit entrepreneurs revealed some interesting discoveries. Nearly 60 percent of entrepreneurs working at nonprofits are women. Entrepreneurs in the nonprofit sector tend to be older than their more traditional counterparts. Nonprofit entrepreneurs are also more educated, compared to entrepreneurs who work for for-profit businesses. Research has shown that 89 percent of nonprofit entrepreneurs hold a bachelor’s degree, whereas only 31 percent of entrepreneurs outside of this realm have a college degree.

People with an entrepreneurial spirit have a lot to offer nonprofits, but they might not necessarily feel at home in a typical office environment. Philanthropic organizations typically have modest goals that they can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. Entrepreneurs tend to be rebels who want to break that mold, aiming to beat expectations and achieve more in less time.

valuable qualities

Entrepreneurs have many valuable qualities that nonprofits should adopt and encourage:

• Entrepreneurs are more likely to take risks and challenge themselves.

• Entrepreneurs tend to be both confident and creative. In order to start your own business, you need a healthy amount of gumption and the ability to think outside the box.

• Entrepreneurs are independent and have no trouble taking charge. Entrepreneurs are comfortable working alone and leading the ship, which can make them perfect candidates for upper-level and executive roles.

• Entrepreneurs have well-developed sales and marketing skills. When you run your own business, you have to be your own self-promoter and your own marketing team.

In addition to actively recruiting new hires that are entrepreneurial, nonprofits should also encourage a more entrepreneurial way of working within their organization to create a team of future leaders who can take their nonprofit mission to the next level.

Ross Iverson is the CEO of the Vail Centre and can be reached at The Vail Centre’s mission is to elevate careers, organizations and communities through education. Learn more at

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