SPC 014: Growing a Sustainable Nonprofit

In 2004, Tonya Surman saw a need in Toronto’s nonprofit community: there were so many small organizations trying to make a huge impact on the world, but they didn’t have enough resources to effect the change they worked so hard for.

Tonya founded the Centre for Social Innovation to help nonprofits collaborate with each other and share resources to create the good that drove their missions in the first place. The co-working space started with 5,000 square feet and 14 member organizations. She’s now expanded to four locations in Canada and the U.S. with over 400 members.

In this week’s podcast, Tonya shares some lessons she’s learned about taking risks, dreaming big, and creating a sustainable model, whether you’re a nonprofit or for-profit business.

5 Ways to Grow Sustainably

Understand your business model from the get-go. Learning good business practices is what helped Tonya’s social venture grow in the first place. Plus, having a clear vision for your business makes it easier to win over investors to support your idea.

Take time to decide if you should be a nonprofit. You can impact social change and still be a for-profit company. Tonya says to take time to decide which is best for your venture. Do some market research. That will show you where the most demand is for your services  – and whether investors would be willing to back you or not.

Learn from industries different from yours. This is the idea that fuels Centre for Social Innovation. Nonprofits from all sectors collaborate together. While arts and engineering sectors have different organizational needs and approaches, they can inspire each other to work smarter by borrowing ideas in a shared workspace.

Embrace finance and don’t be afraid of numbers. Tonya admits that money was never her strong point. But a business mentor changed her mind with the best piece of advice she’s ever heard: embrace the money. “I’m not afraid of money,” Tonya says. “I love money. I love money because money is energy. We have the power to direct how that money gets spent and that is a reflection of our intention and our energy.”

Be passionate about what you do. Passion is what drives your business when times get tough. “Growth is hard,” Tonya says. “Scale is hard. [But] the work that we’re doing we believe so deeply in. We’re so passionate about the impact that is has on the world that we’re willing to take ridiculous risks because we see how it transforms lives.”

Listen to the full podcast below.

What passion do you follow in your business? How has your passion sustained your own growth?

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