How A Structured Methodology Can Help Your Non-Profit Solve Problems

Learn more about how to use a holistic methodology to optimise your problem-solving methods

Non-profits are organisations whose mission is to further a particular social cause or point of view through fundraising or other activities. Any money earned or received through donations are used to keep the organisation running or put toward its mission. With this organisational structure where the owners do not keep money for themselves, it is natural that non-profits face different business challenges from for-profit endeavours, but these are still challenges nonetheless.

Peter Drucker (1909-2005), top management consultant of his time, set out some of these unique challenges in his 1990 book “Managing the Non-profit Organisation”. In the context of ushering support from stakeholders, he identified two challenges: firstly to attract contributors, which can be defined as people who either donate or volunteer to help the non-profit and its cause. The second challenge is to instil a sense of purpose into their staff and other volunteers, as these are generally unpaid positions. To compensate their time and effort spent with the organisation, these individuals must feel like they are contributing something to the given social cause.

To solve challenges like the two mentioned, various problem-solving methods have been created. A notable one is Dr. Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. This is essentially planning a change, testing it, analysing the test, then incorporating the change if it was successful, or planning a different change instead. Because it is a cycle, the steps can be repeated until a system has been perfected, or throughout the lifetime of the process to ensure the process is always optimised.
PDCA cycle

The PDCA cycle (https://asq.org/quality-resources/pdca-cycle)
These methods can easily be adapted to non-profits to identify how to successfully attract donors and volunteers in a sustainable manner.

For example, if the non-profit is struggling to retain volunteers, they must identify the root of the problem. This could be done by:

  1. Interviewing past volunteers to understand why they were stopped coming back to help the organisation. Get feedback on any issues they encountered during volunteering and accept suggestions with an open mind.

  2. Interview current volunteers to understand their motivation for volunteering in general, and with the organisation specifically. Likewise, get feedback on issues they see in the organisation, and ask for suggestions of tasks they can take on.

  3. Work with current volunteers to identify the common complaints and issues raised. Develop a plan to resolve these issues. Continually check that the plan targets these issues to stay on track. However, ensure the plan includes a deadline to ensure completion of the project.

  4. Work with current volunteers to identify the common complaints and issues raised. Develop a plan to resolve these issues. Continually check that the plan targets these issues to stay on track. However, ensure the plan includes a deadline to ensure completion of the project.

  5. Present a prototype of this plan to current volunteers. The prototype can be in the form of a new schedule, new types of tasks, or a new organisational structure. No matter what, it should be something that can be tested out.

  6. Improve the prototype based on feedback from current volunteers. Repeat steps 4-5 as many times as necessary, while remembering to keep within the timeline previously set.

  7. Present the idea to past volunteers to see if it is effective enough to attract them back to the organisation. This would be the ultimate test of your idea, to see if your prototype can not only retain volunteers, but bring them back. Although your solution should have been adequate in step 5, it is important to understand the full potential of the idea.


Through this example, it is clear that the problem-solving process requires many steps and continuous improvements based on feedback. It is necessary to conduct preliminary research on the context of the problem, as well as the type of people your solution is targeting. Throughout the process, it is necessary to check that the change still aligns with the reasons and aim set out in the planning phase. Thus, planning not only gives the non-profit a means to form an idea, it also sets out the goals and timeframe to meet those goals.

Using a structured methodology is the first step to solve a problem. For non-profits specifically, there is a tailored methodology: the 8D (Eight Disciplines) methodology, a problem-solving approach created by automaker company Ford. It has been successfully adapted by non-profits to identify the root causes of their problems and hence improve productivity.
Eight Disciplines 8d

The 8D methodology (https://asq.org/quality-resources/eight-disciplines-8d)
The 8D methodology is particularly useful as its steps cover the entire process of problem-solving, from the planning stage to ensuring the team who solved the problem gets the credit they deserve.

If you would like to learn more about innovative problem-solving methods, or specifically about the 8D methodology, keep an eye out for our future articles. If you’re ready to take the next step for your non-profit, make sure to sign up for our course Innovative Problem-Solving Methodologies For Non-Profit Organisations.
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