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On Engagement: Critical Lessons Business Leaders can Learn from Non-Profits (Part 3)

Updated: May 6

In this 4-part series, we explore four critical areas of operation where business leaders could learn a great deal from innovative nonprofit leaders. In part 3 of the series, we’re talking about team engagement and caring organizations.

How people find and stay in jobs has changed. Though good salaries and benefits are still important, today, many folks entering the workforce or changing jobs want to connect with your organizational mission, purpose, and ensure where they work has a healthy organizational culture. How we spend our days has become one of the most important factors when choosing jobs. Non-profits are also seasoned at working alongside and together with the people they serve (essentially, their customers). Creating strong, transparent, beneficial stakeholder relationships is critical to non-profits: business leaders could learn a great deal here from our sector.

There’s also a caveat to this: not all non-profits are functioning this way. There are a lot of non-profits that also need to step up their game when it comes to engagement. The sector is far from perfect and the points below illustrate practices of some of the best-run non-profits. They are specifically referring to organizations that are well run and innovative within the sector. So, if your nonprofit is dysfunctional and mismanaged this article is also for you.

So, let’s talk about engagement.


  • Team connection: Non-profit teams are often powerfully connected to each other, their community, and the mission of the organization. Teams are engaged by a deeply rooted vision and purpose they see play out in the organization’s activities. Often, team members share lived experiences with the organization’s mission and their skills and abilities contribute to the efforts set-out to address that experience. Caring non-profit teams are often bringing their whole selves to work, and achieving the mission runs deeper and has greater impact than merely reaching a goal with no purpose.

  • Genuine community engagement: Great non-profits not only deliver services to the community, but they also work alongside them. The community is often involved in every step of the process: conceptualization, development, delivery, evaluation, outreach, etc. Often, community members are hired including in senior management roles, and direct process to ensure the greatest impact. Many organizations integrate community voice as a key piece of their daily practice and it becomes embedded in the organization’s culture and way of doing including on their board of directors.

  • Stakeholder engagement: In the non-profit sector, stakeholder engagement is more than just getting to know our stakeholders and giving them what they want. It’s about involving them in identifying problems or challenges and including their participation in our shared response. The perspective and experience stakeholders bring to the table is invaluable. Whether they are funders, donors, community members, business owners, service users, clients, or others, meaningfully including folks who are impacted by the work we do (or don’t do) is critically important to our learning and our understanding of the kind of impact we can make.

How could your work change if your teams felt a deeper connection to the work they do, brought their whole selves to work, and engaged in meaningful relationships with your customers? What if your stakeholders helped to direct some of your strategic priorities?

It may not be possible to implement these ideas in business to the same extent non-profits can, but to shift the thinking and move in the direction of genuine engagement and inclusion with all stakeholders, could be transformational.

Join us next week for part 4 in the series: On Culture.

This blog is a collaborative piece by EPIC team members Michael Prosserman and Tina de los Santos

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