Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability

The “dual bottom line” equips boards to address dead horses and sacred cows (or goats).


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Dakota tribal wisdom says
that when you discover you are riding a dead horse,
the best strategy is to dismount.[1]

Elmer Towns and Warren Bird


Imagine you’re on this board. The country leader of an international sports ministry is handing the baton to a younger leader—a good thing. But he pleads, “Please don’t terminate the goat ministry!” (Ever notice when a program is struggling, it’s usually called a “ministry”?)

I was the third party asked to address the elephant in the room about the goat ministry. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist mixing metaphors.)

Me: “Does the goat program have high impact or provide revenue for your sports ministry?”

Leader: “No, but I’m hoping it will someday.”

I was reminded of my two favorite one-liners on nonprofit sustainability:

•   “We’re nonprofit, but we didn’t plan it that way.”

•   “Nonprofit is a tax designation, not a management philosophy.”

We’ve listened to hundreds of nonprofit staff members whine, “Yeah, but are we a ministry or a business?” (Their answer is in their question and the way they intone that nasty B-word.)

That’s the wrong question. Scripture doesn’t confuse us with a negative dichotomy between business and ministry. The better question is, “Whatever tax code we use to serve others (nonprofit or for-profit), will we be sustainable and God-honoring in the long-term?”

The goat scenario only needed a one-word response: “Stop.”

This lesson, for many board members, might be a favorite best-practice takeaway. Three nonprofit experts have adapted the classic, four-quadrant business growth grid to help nonprofit leaders and boards focus on sustainability issues. It’s simple to understand but highly demanding of the board’s best wisdom and spiritual discernment.

In Nonprofit Sustainability, the big idea from coauthors Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman pops out on page 25 with their brilliant chart, “Dual Bottom Line: Mission Impact and Financial Sustainability.”[2]

And by the way, have you ever noticed that page 25 is often a great summary of a well-written book? After 24 pages of introduction and warm up, the authors often deliver the meat and potatoes on page 25.

For example, in John Frank’s short book, Stewardship as a Lifestyle, page 25 includes an excellent chart on 12 factors in “God’s Eternal Economic Equation.”[3] In writing this chapter, Pearson checked out page 25 in Busby’s book TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness,[4] and bingo! Page 25 delivers a hilarious story, a memorable Winston Churchill quotation, and three preachable points on why truth-telling is vital to creating trust in Christ-centered ministries. (Full disclosure: author John reviewed page 25 in his own book, Mastering the Management Buckets and didn’t find much!)

The dual bottom line chart in Nonprofit Sustainability is part Nonprofit 101 and part Harvard Business School. The authors write that getting to nonprofit sustainability involves three steps: 1) The Matrix Map Analysis, 2) Decision Making, and 3) The Sustainable Nonprofit Business Model.

Dual Bottom Line:
Mission Impact and Financial Sustainability

Chart adapted from Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability[5]
(Used by Permission)

At your next board meeting or annual review of your strategic plan, ask your CEO to plot the ministry’s key programs into these four quadrants. “The Dual Bottom Line” matrix map will help you visualize mission impact and financial sustainability:

•   Stars (High Mission Impact, High Sustainability): Are you investing adequate budget and staff to ensure these programs will continue to be stars?

•   Hearts (High Mission Impact, Low Sustainability): Are you tempted to prolong a program here that will never be sustainable—perhaps unduly swayed by your heart? These programs may be core to your mission, but you must address the sustainability issues.

•   Money Tree (Low Mission Impact, High Sustainability): Heed Peter Drucker’s wisdom: “Never subordinate the mission in order to get money.”[6] But if, like a rescue mission, your thrift store generates a substantial surplus to support the “heart” side of the ministry, then feed it!

•   Stop Sign (Low Mission Impact, Low Sustainability): This is so easy for some board members: “Stop the bleeding!” Yet, it’s excruciatingly painful for others, especially founders: “Give it more time!” So pray, discern, and also address the “Top-10 Questions to Ask About Program Capacity and Sustainability” in Mastering the Management Buckets.[7] It’s especially important to ask, “Under what conditions do we agree that we will pull ‘the plug’ on this program if the goals are not achieved by the target date?”

Steve Moore, Executive Director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, says,

We seek to inspire organizations to focus on sustainability in their important work—so they will flourish not just for three years, but for generations perhaps. We’ve noticed that some organizations hyper-focus on failing programs, thinking more funds will prop up a failed strategy. That rarely works. Money is rarely the solution.

Instead, we commend boards and CEOs that under­stand their mission and their calling and thoughtfully focus on how their “Heart” programs can gradually become “Stars.”[8]

In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus had this to say about sustainability:

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish’” (MSG).



The “dual bottom line” exercise equips boards
to address dead horses and sacred cows (or goats).
Plot your ministry’s key programs in the four-quadrant
impact/sustainability grid, then discern next steps.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: Chec Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman.
  2. Plot: Ask your CEO to plot your major programs within the four quadrants for the board’s review .
  3. Assess: Discern what should be done with each program, especially asking if you are investing in and growing your stars .



Lord, we’ve been negligent in starting programs, without counting the cost.
We did it in Your name but without Your direction.
Forgive us. Amen.



[1] Elmer Towns and Warren Bird, Into the Future: Turning Today’s Church Trends Into Tomorrow’s Opportunities (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000), 1.

[2] Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman, Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Sustainability (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 25

[3] John R. Frank, Stewardship as a Lifestyle: Seeking to Live as a Steward and Disciple (Indianapolis: Dog Ear, 2012), 25

[4] Dan Busby, TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, rev. ed. (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, June 2015), 25.

[5] Bell, Masaoka, and Zimmerman, Nonprofit Sustainability, 25.

[6] Peter F. Drucker, Frances Hesselbein, and Joan Snyder Kuhl, Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), 10.

[7] John Pearson, Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 94.

[8] Steve G. W. Moore, “Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), April 25, 2018,

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018,

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.