Independent Research Study Initiative by MBA Gordon Chan

Haas student, Gordon Chan, MBA ’12, conducted an independent research study to understand the distinct strategies and capabilities for growth of nonprofit organizations.

Gordon stresses that not all nonprofit organizations can sustain growth with the same strategies and structures and chose to divide the sector into three specific segments. He defined these segments as the following:

  • Customer-oriented organizations: In these organizations, the beneficiary of the product or service is the same individual as the funder.
  • Beneficiary-oriented organizations: In these organizations, the beneficiary of the product or service is separate from the funder.
  • System-oriented organizations: These organizations serve other nonprofits and seek to enable or coordinate the work of others in the field.

Gordon divided the nonprofits with the highest revenue growth between 2007 and 2011 into these segments. He then interviewed the selected organizations to identify key differences in strategies, decisions, and circumstances for growth in the three categories. Here is a summary of his findings:

  • Customer-oriented organizations clearly adopted a more intentional and proactive approach to growth given their experience was overwhelmingly part of their internal plans and growth for these nonprofits is usually an internally generated effort.
  • Growth among beneficiary-oriented organizations is usually externally driven and focused on one program within the nonprofit at a time.
  • System-oriented respondents strongly agree that they will have to significantly change their organizations to sustain their growth suggesting that they reach for a diverse set of opportunities as they arise from a collective effort of multiple parties.

Following is a chart that summarizes the self-reported ratings of characteristics of the organizations.

Self-reported ratings on characteristics of non-profit organizations by category.

Self-reported ratings on characteristics of non-profit organizations by category.

Gordon was pursuing an MBA in order to make a career switch into the social sector. The classes and programs offered by CNPL became a factor that set Haas apart for him. Once at Haas, he was very involved with the Center, taking many classes, becoming involved with the Berkeley Board Fellows program, and attending the Schwab Charitable Speaker Series events. In his final semester at Haas, Gordon completed this independent research study with CNPL, working closely with Director Nora Silver and several other professors.

Here is a link to Gordon Chan’s full report:Different Paths to Hyper-Growth in the Nonprofit Sector


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