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Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where You Are,
Where You’re Going, and What to Expect When You Get There

The Nonprofit Life Stage Assessment

The Nonprofit Life Stage Assessment is a tool for determining what stage your organization is in. (This tool is also included in the book, The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations. It may also be purchased separately.) The tool helps you understand your organization’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to its particular stage of development. It will help your organization plan for future needs, make decisions proactively, anticipate challenges, and determine what adjustments might be appropriate. Additionally, knowledge about the stage your organization is in will help you realize that some of the challenges your organization is experiencing are normal.

Organizations may find the tool especially helpful in the following situations:

Prior to embarking on a strategic planning process.
During times of high stress or challenge for the organization.
When engaging an organization development consultant.
Prior to an executive search.
As pre-work, discussion fodder, or action learning tool at a board or staff retreat.

You can use the results of the assessment on several different levels. On one level, your responses to the assessment tool will place your organization in a “Home Stage” that shows your overall location within the model. On another level, it shows your organization’s strengths and weaknesses relative to its developmental stage. On yet another level it can be used to compare your organization against generally recognized practices for high functioning nonprofit organizations.

While you will have a Home Stage that represents the current functioning level of your organization, your organization will also have elements of all four other stages. As mentioned in the beginning of this book, it is possible that your organization as a whole might generally be in one Home Stage, but certain programs or arenas might be in a different stage. As your Home Stage progresses from Stage One to Stage Five over time, you must acknowledge and pass through the previous developmental stages. The knowledge, experience, and information gained at each stage are needed to progress to the next stage.

The authors designed this tool:

1) to provide insights on the stages of development of nonprofit organizations,
2) as a tool for executive directors, boards of directors, and consultants who want to help nonprofit organizations grow and develop,
3) as a discussion tool between boards of directors and employees and
4) to provide benchmarks against which nonprofit organizations can gauge themselves.

There are three ways to administer the assessment. It can be used with an individual in a leadership role in the organization such as the Executive Director or Board Chair, and the results discussed with a knowledgeable third party such as an organizational consultant. Alternatively, copies can be distributed to a number of members of the organization, and the results can be collated and presented to interested parties such as the Board of Directors or key staff. The tool can also be administered in a group session, with a collective score for each statement. All statements should be answered. We recognize there is repetition of some concepts, however the individual questions have different phrasing. This repetition is important to determining the developmental stage of the organization. We do not recommend answering only selected statements within an arena or stage, as the results will be skewed.