Each mission-driven organization is on a journey, whether a day or decade old. This article is part of our “Lessons from Leaders” program, which is designed to offer help from those who’ve faced the same challenges you do now – whether it’s creating an online presence, engaging with communities, fundraising, best practices or other issues. We hope these short essays will help you on your journey – and that someday you’ll offer your own perspectives to help the next generation of mission-driven organizations.
Regardless of how long they have been serving their communities, all mission-based organizations need to keep finding ways to ensure that they have the resources they need to deliver their services. Whether we’re talking about human capital or financial support, these needs are universal. But how does a small organization remain viable and thrive?
According to Leigh R. Allen II, Interim Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Marketing & Development at the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), efficiency is a key factor. Actually, the smaller the organization the larger the need for efficiency. Unlike larger organizations that can absorb some inefficiency of staff, small organizations “must make every hour count” and “use judicious use of time,” said Allen.
It helps that CLEO’s staff has worked together for over a decade and each team member knows how the others work and think. Critically, they each value the mission and understand the role they play in furthering CLEO’s pursuits. Founded over 50 years ago, CLEO’s mission is to inspire, motivate, and prepare students from underrepresented communities to succeed in law school and beyond. Since its inception, more than 25,000 students have participated in CLEO’s programs. No small feat given CLEO has a staff of six!
Another factor in achieving longevity and success is not being complacent about funding. According to Allen, he is still learning how to monetize CLEO’s mission. Because funding is critical to advancing a mission-based organization’s programs and services, organizations must keep their ears to the ground to find new funding opportunities, including grants and government programs. As an example, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, CLEO was able to secure SBA/PPP funding. Allen also suggests that organizations need to pay attention to what other organizations are doing in order to identify new sources of funding. Exploring and identifying new funding sources is an ongoing process that can be critical to an organization’s continued success.
In sum, organizational longevity comes down to maximizing efficiency and remaining alert to funding opportunities. As CLEO has demonstrated, a small organization does not equate to a small mission and focusing on these key viability issues is critical to long-term success.
CLEO, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to inspire, motivate, and prepare students from underrepresented communities to succeed in law school and beyond. Founded in 1968, when the number of lawyers of color was less than one percent, CLEO has since had more than 25,000 high school, college prelaw, and law students participate in its programs with more than 46 percent becoming members of the legal profession. CLEO alumni have excelled in every area of the legal profession to include judges, corporate attorneys, law school deans and professors, practitioners, politicians, and more. More information about CLEO and its programs can be found at https://cleoinc.org