What Not-for-Profits Can Learn From Pluto

Pluto used to be a few blurry pixels on a screen. Accepted as a frozen, stark and desolate rock. The recent pictures, however, bring to light that Pluto is in fact a beautiful planet that is not a ball of ice, but a striking reddish-orange colour with large pools of black earth. Topped off with a love heart which, no matter how unsentimental you are, brings a smile to the face. It has been an unexpected yet delightful discovery.

The knowledge of our universe continues to expand – as does the social sector. Right now NFPs need the ability to unearth those out-of-focus areas, see how they can add value and bring a smile to the face of social change. They need to fundamentally rethink their business models, through the lens of sustainability. The question is: what are the Pluto’s of the NFP universe? What should NFPs be focusing on? The answer: Skill gaps.

As the organisations grow within the sector we’ve noticed that skills gaps are widening. Skills that weren’t necessary 5 years ago are now vital for achieving sustainability. At Spark we’ve worked with dozens of NFP organisations and helped identify and fill these broadening gaps. Sometimes all that’s needed is an outside perspective to shine a light on the black holes. So let’s breakdown the key gaps and offer some solutions.

Business Development

Before talking about what business development is, let’s just make clear what business development is not: It’s not sales. At its core, business development exists to identify and create strategic partnerships that enable leverage for revenue, reach and overall enhancement. The quickest way to begin business development is to start utilising your network.

    • Be seen: In this case, don’t be Pluto, don’t sit on the outskirts waiting to be brought into focus. Find someone to represent your organisation and attend networking events in order to build those strategic bridges.
    • Existing connections: Hiring someone who has connections in both social and private sectors opens up pathways that may have not been accessible before.
    • Partner Up: Not all NFPs will have the resources to take on a full time BD professional. Recently two of Victoria’s largest homelessness NFPs, HomeGround Services and Hanover, merged to form Launch Housing. Creating a partnership (with a private or social sector entity) can enable the BD gap to be filled mutually. Thereby limiting your resource expenditure whilst still leveraging your reach.


Research has shown that 25% of Australian NFPs are struggling to keep up to date with today’s technology. The challenge can be boiled down to 3 key areas – Uncertainty around what to improve and how, the struggle to keep pace with tech and hiring of the right people. A great breakdown of these challenges can be found in this to-the-point blog. What you need to consider:

  • Outsourcing: Have someone else look after the bulk of your IT can eradicate a heavy and unnecessary burden. Don’t bog down your team with low-value, time-consuming tasks. Find room in your budget for outside help.
  • Alignment: Find an IT provider that has worked with other NFPs. They will have a better understanding of your needs/wants and most importantly, your budget.


A love heart shape on Pluto almost sounds like a marketing stunt dreamed up by NASA. Let’s be honest – the Pluto pictures probably received a viral ‘bump’ thanks to the heart. Unfortunately marketing isn’t always as organic and there is a big gap for cutting edge marketers in the NFP sector. Marketing in the social sector is different due to the sensitivity of subjects or complicated ties with government/private sector that can limit creative marketing.

Some essential skills for NFP marketers:

  • Stay on top: From knowing the latest trends to the latest government reforms, be conscious of what is happening in all areas of the social sector.
  • Understand the limits: Knowing where the line is in terms of sensitive/complex subjects.
  • Find your USP: Nobody really knew what Pluto had to offer until they saw the clear picture. Ensure people always have a coherent vision of your organisation. Find your Unique Selling Point and explicitly communicate why people should engage with your organisation over others that are in the same field.

Gazing at the stars isn’t enough. With the ACNC flagging thousands of organisations for defunding and government purse strings tightening, action towards filling these gaps needs to happen right now. Take the steps to self-sufficiency and you’ll see the planets start to align.

If you are interested in learning more about business strategy and sustainable business models
Download our Whitepaper on The Sustainable NFP


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