A Simple Framework to Set Priorities for Your Mission Driven Organization

Rita McGrath
8 min readMay 27, 2021

Nonprofit organizations are expected to deliver results on multiple fronts. The result can be a nightmare for prioritization. A simple framework that spells out the tradeoffs between mission, resources, advantages and impact can help sort it out.

If you lead a nonprofit, my guess is that you are constantly grappling with the reality of multiple missions. It can lead to a strategy-free, frustrating existence that wastes resources. Here, I’m going to use an approach inspired by my mentor, Ian MacMillan.

Mission and Intended Impact

Nonprofits often have grand mission statements that leave the question of what success would look like unclear. Instead, specify impact. At Larkin Street Youth Services the intended impact is: “help homeless youths, ages 12 to 24, in the San Francisco Bay area develop the self-sufficiency and skills to live independently.”

Mission clarity and mission fit are the first dimension.

Munificence of resources

Notwithstanding your mission, you still have to pay the bills! The quality of outcomes has little bearing on the amount of resources made available to charitable causes. There are literally hundreds of examples of vast resources being poured into solving social problems to virtually no effect.

This is a key reason to separate mission fit from the potential “market.”

Seeking out underserved customers

The most successful nonprofits (as Kevin Barenblat of Fast Forward points out) “commit first to reaching an underserved population, which often includes higher acquisition costs and lower lifetime value. This unwavering focus on an underserved market segment, even when there are others who could benefit from the nonprofit’s programs, drives all aspects of the organization’s strategy.”


A final dimension is how effectively your nonprofit can tackle the problem…

Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.