Most nonprofiteers have spent many an hour pondering the age-old question of whether their nonprofit organization is a business or not. Here at Funraise, it’s not up for debate: We’re firmly team, “Most definitely!” Saying yes to the business supports savvy operational decisions and boosts donor confidence. Additionally, once you’ve committed to the business side of things, you gain access to a multitude of growth-centric tools that can help your organization extend your reach and expand your impact. And one of our favorite systems used by start-ups everywhere is the EOS model.
What is an EOS model?
EOS stands for Entrepreneurial Operating System, and according to eosworldwide.com (and they should know!), it’s “a complete set of simple concepts and practical tools that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs around the world get what they want from their businesses. Implementing EOS will help you and your leadership team get better at three things: vision, traction, and healthy.”
Yes, those three things are different parts of speech, which is disconcerting, but we’re definitely not the grammar police, so let’s pretend that last one is “organizational health.” Despite the grammatical faux pas, EOS is an accessible, effective business system to help start-ups hone their goals, internalize accountability, increase efficiency, and build healthy teams. And small- to mid-size nonprofits have a lot in common with start-ups (just ask our CEO, Justin!).
A brief history of EOS
So, where did this EOS model come from anyway? It is based on the fundamental leadership model outlined in the book "Traction” by Gino Wickman and Kevin Pearce. Wickman then founded EOS the company, having taken over his family business at the tender age of 25, turned the company around, and sold it seven years later. So, he really knows what he’s talking about.
Benefits of EOS for nonprofits
The EOS model focuses on six key components that help you manage the many challenges of running a business: vision, data, people, process, traction, and issues. Rather than diving into the definitions and particulars (you can Google that), let’s get right into why nonprofits like yours might find these six components useful. Here are the benefits of adopting an EOS model for your nonprofit.
- Set a vision that works for everyone. Having a vision is vital for nonprofits that want to do big things. But if everyone isn’t behind said vision 110%, it ain’t gonna happen. EOS helps you set a big, bold, long-term vision—one that everyone can stand by.
- Put the data first. Emotions run high in the business and nonprofit world, but EOS helps you cut through the drama and make data-driven decisions.
- Get the right people in place. If you team doesn’t align with your vision and isn’t fully committed to the work, you’re never going to reach your full organizational potential. Make sure you have the right folks in the right roles.
- Have a process for everything. If you want your nonprofit to run like clockwork, all-night email-a-thons need to become a thing of the past. Instead, put clear processes in place to optimize productivity.
- Focus on the issues that matter. Running a nonprofit is never smooth sailing, but by thoughtfully honing your problem-solving skills, you can address issues head-on—and move on quickly.
- Achieve traction. This is the trademarked component at the heart of EOS. By fostering accountability throughout your nonprofit, you can realize your long-term vision.
When it comes down to it, EOS can turn a seemingly unachievable vision into practical, doable actions, uniting teams and moving your nonprofit forward.
EOS in action
What does it actually look like when organizations implement EOS? From our vantage point, it’s more impact, greater focus, improved recognition, and less stress. Take a look.
Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors found actionable inspiration
Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors empowers and connects burn survivors around the world—but they wanted to scale their efforts. To expand their reach and grow their community, they set a goal of One Million Strong. In a conversation on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast, Amy Action, Phoenix Society’s CEO explained, “We needed a rallying cry.” But achieving that level of growth would require new tools and a new mindset. So, they decided to adopt the EOS model. While there was initial pushback from the leadership team, soon enough, the results spoke for themselves.
“We brought in consistent processes so we didn’t need to recreate the wheel all the time,” Amy shares. “And after we [started] practicing some of that structure around daily operations, it took away some of the frustration. It took away some of the unknowns. It helped us be consistent in our approach and solve the problem for good versus keep recycling the same problem. And while there are some challenges to translating [EOS] to a nonprofit, I’ve spoken with other nonprofits who have found it very helpful. And to scale, I don’t think we would be where we are without it, quite frankly.”
PBS uses EOS FTW
It’s easy to forget that PBS, known far and wide for its educational and entertaining programming, has faced many of the same struggles as other nonprofits. But by treating their nonprofit like a business, following the data, keeping up with the times, and building out a team that works, they’ve achieved the nonprofit dream. Using the success of other streaming services as a model (vision), they bring public broadcasting to the masses (issues) through a members-only program (data), consistent content updates (traction), and an over-arching mission.
One more time, for those in the back
I also have firsthand experience with EOS. Back when I was working at an early-stage consulting start-up, pre-Funraise (it feels like a lifetime ago!), we were struggling to grow beyond project-to-project work. So, we decided to implement the EOS model to give our fledging company a vision to rally behind and set practical steps forward to make it happen. As a result, we grew more in one quarter than we had in the past year.
All the while, we were creating a more reliable and stable business. Our team was growing, our business was growing, and we were experiencing more satisfaction than ever. And when COVID caused the primary base of our business to fall out, the EOS model gave us the confidence and framework to rebuild and become an even stronger business than before.
How to know if an EOS model is right for your nonprofit
Sure, EOS can really make an impact, but how do you know if it’s worth all the effort? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself and your team:
- Do you have big goals but lack a clear way to translate them into actionable steps?
- Do you want your team to make a bigger impact without working harder, longer, and more?
- Do you have a clear vision but no idea how to get there?
- Are you struggling to rally your team around a vision?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, EOS could be your next step to success. Check out the official EOS page here for all sorts of information and resources. Then, take a deep breath and get ready for a transformation.