Ⓜ The Four M’s of Nonprofit Decision-Making

Mission, Membership, Marketing, Money

The 4 M’s framework is a useful way to evaluate programs, events, and other opportunities and to inform your decisions about where to invest time, energy, and resources. It is useful for considering new opportunities, as well as re-examining existing programs and events to ensure they remain relevant and worthwhile.

Use the 4 M’s to think about things like:

  • The special event that brings in a lot of money but is really just a party with no clear connection to the mission
  • A program that serves the mission perfectly but has zero revenue or other funding towards offsetting its costs
  • That co-branding opportunity with a local business that gets great exposure but direct, tangible benefit

Whether you are a startup deciding where to invest precious resources and energy or a big organization drowning in opportunities and requests, the 4 M’s can help clarify your decision-making process.


How well is it aligned with your mission, core values, and the reason you organization exists? 

Things are highly aligned with the mission are of course important, but they must be balanced with efforts that bring benefits of the other M’s. If everything you did was mission-aligned you could still go out of business if there wasn’t enough cash coming in the door. Or it could be ineffective if clients don’t know about your great services.

Membership (or donors)

How much does it grow your base of individual supporters?

For membership organizations, does it bring new members? For other types of organizations, does it bring you new individual donors or new contacts who become reliable supporters? Members/donors are more than just a source of money. They are a source of volunteers, energy, excitement, and much more. An activity that grows your base without making a lot of money could still be valuable in other ways.


How does it grow awareness of your organization and its mission?

Does it bring you exposure, visibility, media coverage, etc. ? Clients, partners, and funders can’t find you if they don’t know about you. Sometimes it’s important to just build your brand, market position, and overall awareness.


Does it bring in real cash money? 

That means it makes a net profit after expenses, including staff time. Don’t forget to factor in staff time to the budget! For special events, many experts suggest an 80% profit desireable to make it worthwhile versus other revenue sources you could pursue. Your nonprofit is a corporation, and all corporations need the resources to offer useful services delivered by competent and happy employees.

How many M’s does the opportunity satisfy?

The more the better! Something that hits all for 4 M’s is probably a no-brainer. It’s easy to make the case for pursuing the opportunity or keeping the program or event. but most things in life involve some trade-offs.

If it only aligns with one or two M’s, it should align completely. For example, an event that raises a six figure gross revenue with an 80% profit margin might be worth it, even if it does nothing to serve the mission, market the organization, or get more members. Conversely, we often do things that are mission-aligned but lose money or don’t contribute to marketing or membership. Those can be OK, too – if they are significantly in service to the mission.

Make more M’s

Sometimes those Single-M opportunities can be tweaked to add another M. That lucrative event can better include the mission or clients.

The key to using this framework is balance. It’s OK to have a few things that only hit one or two M’s, as long you limit that number and are intentional about when you allow those things to pass through the filter. Strive towards most things you do hitting three or four M’s.

Published by erogers

geek, traveler, nonprofiteer, etc.