What is a Lean Nonprofit? 

"Lean," when I say it in nonprofit circles, is usually thought to mean something along the lines of "doing more with less," or "working with thin margins," or "keeping overhead low." But nope. That's not what it means at all. 

Lean, in this context, comes from Lean Manufacturing - a process designed in the 1980's and pioneered by Toyota. It's marked by continuous improvement and elimination of waste. In 2009, in his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Reis brought Lean into the entrepreneurial and tech world. Startups, in Reis' parlance, is any organization that operates in environments of extreme uncertainty. 

Guess who else operates in environments of extreme uncertainty? 

That's right, you brilliant buttercup, you: nonprofits. 

At Lean Nonprofit, we help organizations increase their mission impact while reducing waste. What kind of waste? 

  • Employee turnover
  • Inefficient program design and launch
  • Fundraising money left on the table
  • Reinventing the wheel
  • Fraud and skimming

We do this by helping organizations get smarter and more nimble with their strategy, program design and implementation.

Everything we do is built around program development - minimum viable program development - that allows organizations to build and launch programs, measure the results, learn from the results, and make decisions to feed back into program design - ultimately, getting maximum results. 

Changes at Lean Nonprofit - From Sarai Johnson, Founder and Principal

Lean Nonprofit has been my brainchild and experiment since 2014. I love the work we do with and for nonprofits, and look forward to continuing to partner with organizations in the future. 

At the same time, I have also come to recognize that the greatest impact for organizations comes only with long-term, deep-level commitments for transformation. My personal pride in my work with organizations comes from working on retainer over longer periods of time to implement transformative changes to organizations' leadership teams, organizational cultures, programs, fundraising, and processes. 

Starting in late 2017, Lean Nonprofit will shift from providing short-term support, small projects, and online trainings to only consider long-term engagements that get to the heart and soul of an organization. If you are interested in working with me to design and build a Lean Nonprofit, go to the contact page and send me a note. By 2018, more information will be available, and an application process will be instituted. Until then, let's just talk about what you need and how much time you are able and willing to commit to take your organization from OK to incredible. 

Areas of Focus

We specialize in offering four things: 

  • Leadership Team Development using Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

  • Grant:Magnet - helping you set up and operate a high-return grant program

  • Fundraising Program Development - providing you with the infrastructure, processes, and training to build a successful, diverse funding program

  • Strategic Impact Assessment - building an ongoing process and systems to help you understand and see your impact. 

For Consultants

Lean Nonprofit offers business development training and coaching using Book Yourself Solid and other tools, as well as licensing of Lean Nonprofit intellectual property to help you maximize your consulting practice. I am a Book Yourself Solid Certified Coach in Training, with three years of experience in BYS, along with certifications in Business Advisory from GrowthWheel and Incubator Management from iNBIA. Drop me a line to find out more.

Leave in Love - Know WHen to Stay, When to Go, and How to Leave Well


Us nonprofit people are a loyal, long-suffering bunch. If there's anything I've heard more than the pervasive use of acronyms, it's this question: "How do you know when you're burned out and need to leave?" 

Spoiler alert: probably about the time you find yourself asking this question, if not slightly before. 

But here's the amazing thing about it - even when people ask this question - even when we find ourselves obsessively Googling "Symptoms of Burnout," and asking our friends and significant others whether the list of symptoms apply to us as if it were a quirky quiz in Teen magazine - we stay. Why? 

Well. There are a lot of reasons. First, those of us who are attracted to nonprofit service tend to be a self-sacrificing bunch. We care about the mission, we care about our clients, we care about our co-workers. We are concerned that if we leave, we'll have survivor's guilt. Survivor's guilt in that: I got out alive, and all the other people are still back in that hard, burning-outting place...this is our desire to help others just popping right back up. 

We also tend to over-identify with our jobs. I'm not just So-and-So McGee, I'm So-and-So McGee, Executive Director at (name your acronym here). If I leave, who am I? This was my biggest hurdle, to be honest.

And then, there's our fear of survival - what else will I do? Who else will pay me? Where else can I be happier? 

You see, leaving is hard. But I don't think it has to be as hard as we make it. In fact, leaving can be an opportunity for major transformation in your life, and in the lives of the other people who are touched by you. When you leave well, everybody ends up better off. 

I'm working on a book about leaving, and in order to write it, I'm doing research with people like you to learn more about leaving. I know my stories - I've left everything from my job to my marriage to my church to my religion...in less than a year...and I came out the other side happier, healthier, and more resilient than ever. I've learned a lot - and I'd really love for you to help me learn more. If you're thinking about leaving, or have recently left something significant - a job, relationship, community, thought patterns, ways of being - whatever! - please head to the Leave in Love website to share your story, or get in touch to schedule an interview. Even more fun - see if you can make it to an event near you (and if one near you isn't scheduled yet, see if you'd like to host one). 

Together, we can discover how to leave well - and make it safer for other people to leave before they burn out.

At Lean Nonprofit, We're all About Helping Nonprofits Build Better Businesses So you Can Get REAL mission REsults. Like, REally real.

What does a better nonprofit business look like? 

Well. For starters, financial stability. We help you generate revenue in new and creative ways to get you closer to sleeping at night instead of worrying whether you'll make payroll this month. 

What else? How about reduced turnover? A happy staff is a productive staff. Only people who are healthy and happy can truly change the world. We can help you build a culture and a staff development plan that will serve your mission like you've never seen before. 

Oh, and what happens when you, another leader, the Executive Director or CEO, Board Chair, random person who waters the plants but you don't notice until they quit and the plants all wilt, leave? Have a plan for that? No? We can help with that too. 

How about strategy? Do you have your top priorities all lined up? Quick! What are they? If you couldn't rattle them off with ease, you need help. We got you covered on that front too. 

Want to dig in more? Work with us. 

Keep In Touch. We like You. Chances Are, You might like Us Too.