What Your Nonprofit Can Learn from a Pizza Joint

I'm a huge pizza fan. Especially the deep-dish, Chicago-style variety. Which is why for thirty years I've been a fan of Zachary's Chicago Pizza.

I'm not alone in my affection. They've won over 170 "best pizza" awards here in the San Francisco area.

So what makes them so special? Well, about twenty years ago I read an article where the founder, Zachary, described that their success was based largely upon one thing: doing one thing very, very well. In this case it was making a stuffed deep-dish pizza. At the time they didn't make thin pizzas. Or sandwiches. Or lasagne. Or any other dish that you can get at other pizza restaurants. Rather, they focused all of their efforts on making one kind of pizza and doing it extremely well. This focus allowed them to excel.

That article struck a chord with me.  I began to notice how businesses and organizations typically succeeded in direct correlation to how focused their products, programs, and services were. For example:

  • Henry Ford reportedly said that "We'll build you any type of car as long as it's a black Model T."

  • When they first started out, McDonalds focused exclusively on serving only a burger, fries, and a drink. They didn't expand their menu until they got their core product completely dialed in.

  • In this Harvard Business Review article, the authors state that "the truth is that the really successful companies are highly focused, achieving unprecedented efficiencies by designing a business model with a razor-thin focus and learning to do the one thing really well."

  • A well-publicized tech company, 37Signals, recently dropped all of their products except one, Basecamp. They then renamed their company after this one product. (Here's another, similar article.)

  • Teach for America was successful, in part, because of their singular focus on one program: placing talented recent college graduates into school districts with teacher shortages.

  • One of my clients, Vida Verde Nature Education, has succeeded, in part due to its singular focus on delivering only one environmental education program.

  • And in my own business I've experienced both growth and greater customer service as a result of focusing specifically on delivering strategic planning for small nonprofits.

So, perhaps you're buying into the idea of how greater focus can lead to greater success for your organization. But what if your organization has already drifted from its core mission and has adopted a variety of other programs and services? How can you refocus?

One of the best tools that I've found for this is called the Matrix Map. From this article, the Matrix Map "is a visual tool that plots all of the organization’s activities—not just its programs—into a single, compelling image. By illustrating the organization’s business model—through a picture of all activities and the financial and mission impact of each one—it supports genuinely strategic discussions."

The Matrix Map is described in full detail in Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell's book, The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions.

I've used the tool with my clients and found it to be very helpful in assessing what programs and services to keep. If you buy the book be sure to read through the entire process before beginning. You may find some shortcuts that will help you streamline the process for your particular situation.