Life Cycle Stages

There are certain factors that contribute to an organization’s life stage: age, finances, staff, governance, programs/services, systems, evaluation/impact, mission/vision, visibility, partnership. Below is an outline of the three stages of organizational development as we understand them.1 The stages can be broadly defined in three groups:

  • Start-Up

    “A start-up organization is in its earliest stages of development. It typically has a founder with a vision or idea and has just begun to establish a funding stream, employee structure, business model, and practices and approaches. Its programming is highly experimental.”2

    Start-up organizational challenges are mostly foundational and focused on survival, specifically around: funding, staff/volunteer expertise; sustaining enthusiasm; refining mission/vision; absence of administrative and evaluation systems.

  • Mezzanine

    “An organization is in the mezzanine phase following its start-up phase. By this point, the organization may have pilot tested its organizational idea, documented outcomes, and developed a written plan for growth, but it has not yet achieved large geographic scale or wide adoption. Sometimes known as post-start-up, [these organizations] have established a track record of funding, engaged a set of people in de ned roles, formed a board, written a set of policies, and defined its business model.”3

    Mezzanine organizational challenges deal mostly with sustainability, building capacity, and obtaining funding to support that work. Specific issues include: funding for capacity, rather than programmatic efforts; board transition from working/volunteer focused to governance/policy focused; on-boarding staff with expertise and merging with the long- standing generalist staff; maintaining innovative culture; creating a theory of change/strategic plan around data.

  • Legacy

    Legacy organizations are “marked by greater brand awareness—of the organization and its programs and services. The nonprofit is larger and has more hierarchy, with clearly de ned management roles. In this stage, the fundraising program has become more sophisticated, perhaps including an endowment or planned giving. The nonprofit has established a strategic plan and is governed by a more diverse board of directors.”4

    Legacy organization challenges are mostly focused on reducing stagnation, encouraging risk-taking, and creating a culture of innovation, specifically around resistance to change; need for new leadership (staff/lay); less touch points with the core “client” demographic, which creates misunderstandings about what the community is/may be looking for; and rigid systems.