All was going well until my new boss, Derric Bakker, asked me how I defined vibrancy.  Stated plainly, I fell flat on my face.  I stuttered and stammered through an answer I wasn’t proud of.  It wasn’t Derric’s fault.  He gently asked me a perfectly legitimate question and graciously nodded at my lame answer.  However, it seriously irritated me that I didn’t have a better one.

For the last handful of years, I have been pondering, exploring, and writing about the concept of vibrancy as it relates to nonprofit organizations.  My elevator speech for my consulting practice included helping nonprofit agencies become vibrant, sustainable organizations.  Other people got excited about the concept of vibrancy as well, signing up for my seminars, reading my vibrancy blog’s, or contracting for vibrancy planning, a new product I rolled out.  I just couldn’t easily define what it was.

Today, I submit a better answer for what vibrancy is all about:

Vibrancy – Achieving a nonprofit’s best community impact without sacrificing sustainability or the well-being of staff and other key stakeholders.

There are three key facets of this definition:

  1. Best Community Impact – Notice this does not say how much your agency is doing. Instead, it is about the actual impact to the community.  We are talking about change in the world, not just activity in your program.  Best Community Impact requires a constant dedication to evaluating outcomes and seeking improvement.
  2. Sustainability – Even if your agency is making great changes in the world, it is not vibrant if it is not sustainable. Racking up debt, living hand to mouth, or chewing threw donors like they are Girl Scout Cookies makes it nearly impossible to make your best community impact anyway.  We must operate our agencies in a fiscally and operationally sustainable manner.
  3. Well-Being of Staff and Other Stakeholders – If your agency is not taking care of your people, how can they in turn take care of your community. There are too many martyrs in the nonprofit sector.  These martyrs are burned out, working too many hours, and feeding the revolving door that is all too common in nonprofits (which isn’t sustainable!).  We must help our staff and other stakeholders live healthy, balanced lives so they can lead others to do the same.

Vibrancy is something all nonprofits leaders should aspire to.  But it requires all three ingredients to be truly vibrant.

Impact and Sustainability without Well-Being is exploitation.
Impact and Well-Being without Sustainability is foolish.
Sustainability and Well-Being without Impact is fraudulent.

While it is a moving target—we can always do better—Vibrancy is a standard that is worth fighting for.  It is a standard that will ultimately make the biggest change in our world.

So now you have a real definition from me on Vibrancy.  Thanks Derric.


Not quite as vibrant as you aspire to be?  Brent is just one of many consultants at Dickerson, Bakker & Associates that are ready to help you develop an action plan to become a vibrant organization full of impact, sustainability, and well-being.  Contact us today.