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Part Two: Analyses and Lessons for Nonprofits

Module by: Kevin Guthrie. E-mail the authorEdited By: Frederick Moody

Summary: Segue from the history to the "lessons learned" section of Kevin Guthrie's The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from One Nonprofit's Long Struggle for Survival

Part Two: Analyses and Lesson for Nonprofits

Through an analysis of the Society's long history, Part One of this study revealed many of the reasons for the in­stitution's present difficulties. Events that occurred over a century ago con­tinue to have an impact, as do manage­ment decisions made much more recently. But what can other nonprofit institutions learn from the Society's story? Are there general propositions that emerge from an analysis of the Society's situation?

There are obviously dangers in try­ing to draw general conclusions based on a study of a single institution. Every organization is unique and has its own idiosyncrasies. The discussion that fol­lows will tend to apply more directly to institutions that are similar to the Soci­ety or at least share some of its basic characteristics. Given that premise, it is helpful to list a few of the key attributes that define a relevant universe of com­parable institutions. They are:

  • Older institutions
  • Institutions that own valuable fixed assets
  • Institutions that own and maintain valuable collections of art, artifacts, or library materials
  • Institutions with high fixed operating costs
  • Institutions that do not generate significant levels of earned income

The general lessons that emerge from this analysis of the Society fall into three categories. The first has to do with the nature of a nonprofit institution's assets. The second concerns the need for balance between a nonprofit institution's sources and uses of funds. And the third focuses on the signal importance of gov­ernance to the long-term health of orga­nizations in the nonprofit sector.

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