Forbes Nonprofit Council members come from a wide range of backgrounds. And with their wide range of experiences, they have a lot to share with fellow members of the community. To help them share with an even greater audience, we’re profiling Forbes Nonprofit Council members here on the blog. This week: Justin Miller.
Justin Miller is the co-founder and CEO of CARE for AIDS, Inc. He received his Bachelor of Science in economics and human and organizational development from Vanderbilt University. Miller is currently pursuing his MBA at Goizueta Business School of Emory.
How did your career as a nonprofit executive take off, and what do you attribute your success to most?
The phrase “take off” insinuates a sudden rise to success. In reality, I would equate my success at CARE for AIDS to Jim Collin’s Flywheel principle. There wasn’t a single event that catapulted me to success or one season of wildly exponential growth. It has been the “constant effort applied in a consistent direction over a long period of time.” We’ve focused on building a talented and passionate team, excellent program design and execution, and world-class donor care. Making small incremental improvements in those areas over a decade has produced momentum that sustains our 30% growth year over year.
How do you keep yourself passionate and driven regardless of how busy you are day to day?
The people I have the privilege to serve propel me daily. I serve four very different constituents: donors/volunteers, clients, staff and African churches. Seeing the impact on each one brings me great joy and fulfillment. I love connecting donors and their resources to this amazing work in Africa. When done right, giving should benefit all parties, including the donor. Then, traveling to the field to see how those resources employ 100+ national staff, equip 40+ local churches, and serve 3,000+ clients per year brings the work full circle. I get up each morning with a sense of anticipation, urgency and responsibility to give everything I have to expand the reach and impact of CARE for AIDS.
What do you see as the future of nonprofits?
I foresee that nonprofits have a challenging but strengthening road ahead. For generations, many donors passively gave to nonprofits because it offered tax relief, elevated social status, or was a small penance for lives of great excess. Whatever the reason, there wasn’t much accountability or expectation placed on nonprofits because the giving was more for the donor’s benefit than the recipient. But now, and rightfully so, nonprofits have been under great scrutiny to be more transparent and prove the outcomes of their work.
Simultaneously, there is growing competition in a field that hasn’t experienced much before. Donors are becoming either more discerning or maybe more distracted, regarding if and how they invest their funds. For example, impact investing offers investors a financial and social return on their investment. Consumers are able to purchase goods and services while making a social or environmental impact, albeit the impact is often less than they perceive. Even online advocacy is a substitute for giving for many millennials. These shifts have already led many nonprofits to try and create other revenue streams other than just donations but only a few I’ve observed have been successful at scale.
Nonprofits fill an important role that governments, churches, and businesses will not ever fully meet, so we must adapt to meet these new demands. Nonprofits need to focus on 1) helping people understand the joy of generosity, 2) telling compelling stories that celebrate the impact they are making while maintaining the dignity and honor of the recipients, and 3) focusing on the outcomes of their people and programs, not just the outputs. Many organizations may be limited by their inability to do one or more of these things, and unfortunately, we may lose some very effective organizations. On the other hand, this competition will raise the performance of organizations and will hopefully create a more effective and efficient community of nonprofits.
What is your best nonprofit leadership or strategy tip for businesses?
Just as nonprofits could stand to learn from businesses, I believe the opposite is also true. My biggest tip for businesses is to never underestimate the lifetime value of a loyal, passionate customer or employee — or what Ken Blanchard calls a “raving fan.”
Businesses could learn from nonprofits on how we do this without some of the same levers that businesses can pull. For example, donor-funded nonprofits are “selling” an idea to donors that will give them very little functional benefit. There may be a small financial benefit, but nonprofits are offering a social and psychological value proposition. That is not an easy sell, and the best nonprofits can do this masterfully by appealing to both the emotion and reason of a donor.
Similarly, in our work, retaining and developing an employee, volunteer or donor is so much easier than acquiring a new one. Many nonprofits have learned the hard way the cost of employee burnout or high donor turnover. The ability to attract and keep talent that will work so hard for less than market pay is a testament to nonprofits. To do this, nonprofits have to maintain a crystal clear vision that inspires and informs our people. We have to engage our employees and volunteers by giving them meaningful responsibility and opportunities for growth. We have to create amazing cultures where people feel valued, cared for, listened to, and invested in. These are things that money may disguise in a larger business for a while, but long term, it will erode the organization. It is important that businesses learn from nonprofits on how to treat their employees and customers as we treat our volunteers and donors.