Growth brings its own complications. Nonprofits face a few things unique to their structure, but both non and for-profit organizations face the question of how to preserve a healthy, effective culture when scaling up.
How do you grow, quickly and aggressively, without losing sight of your foundational values?
Dr. Jared Nelms recently asked this question to an expert panel, who then dug into the details of his organization and helped create a plan to move forward with an ambitious vision for the nonprofit he leads. Jared was open to going through this process on camera so that other nonprofit leaders could glean from it helpful insights that might help them grow their own organization. This is a summary of that process; you can watch the whole thing here.
Grow Big, Grow Quickly
The Timothy Initiative is a nonprofit that grew to $14 million by 2020. Dr. Jared Nelms, the CEO, plans to grow the organization to a $30 million -$50 million organization working around the world. He opened up about the inner workings of TTI with our experts to create a plan for achieving this ambitious goal.
The panel working with Jared consisted of four experts, (all of whom you can read about at the end of this post): Larry Andrews, Tom Dabasinskas, Jonathan Harkless, John Kaminski and Glenn Hansen. These four panelists have personally does the kind of the work The Timothy Initative is involved in, and advised hundreds of organizations like it.
So, how does a nonprofit scale to triple or even quintuple its size around the globe? Let's find out.
The Timothy Initiative
"I stumbled upon OneAccord with the question of, How can we best scale with excellence while also maintaining the high impact and low overheard?" said Jared. "That was my original conversation with Larry. I want to be able to scale with excellence and quality and avoid all of the unnecessary bureaucracy and traditional organizational baggage that tends to slow things down. We’re into church planting movements and seeing things grow rapidly — not by addition but multiplication."
Jared's father founded TTI 14 years ago. Today, it's a global church-planting organization on a mission to train disciples who are expected to plant a church by the end of their training. In 2020, the nonprofit had a $14 million budget. Jared's vision is to grow TTI to a $30 million - $50 million organization.
In its 14 years, The Timothy Initiative has experienced extreme, dynamic growth — about 42 percent year-over-year for six years. It has made nearly 2 million new disciples around the world and planted 87,000+ churches across 40 countries. Its staff consists of just over 250 people, 90 percent of whom are based outside the U.S.
"It has been quite a wild ride, to say the least," said Jared. "I never would have guessed we would be in this place when we started out."
Part 1: Where Do We Begin?
The panel asked Jared a series of questions to get a clearer picture of the organization's current state, potential wins and potential pitfalls.
What does your leadership development process look like?
Jared's father still serves in the organization today as its president. TTI has a board and a core team of international leaders, most of them from Asia and Africa. Jared and his team have identified levels of leadership with positions in the ministry, and every position has levels of leadership attached to it. So, when an individual enters their system of training, they know exactly where they're at; it's articulated very clearly. There’s a self-assessment, a group assessment process and a development plan to help people grow to the next level of leadership.
What is your training process?
"The training process is constantly being tweaked," said Jared. "We’ve added approaches, changed books, thrown them away, rewritten them. Every year we try to change at least two of our books — a complete rewrite. We’ve got a global team of practitioners and theologians that speak into that process so that it doesn’t lean theoretical or become impractical, but also it needs to stay solid biblically. So I would say our process in terms of training and developing disciple-makers, church planting and leaders is firing on all cylinders."
What does your leadership pipeline look like?
The leadership pipeline for TTI has grown organically and naturally, and Jared's team took 12-18 months to articulated the process so that it could become more descriptive and prescriptive, as opposed to just figuring out what happened after the fact.
Where is your growth coming from?
Jared attributes their growth, first of all, to the the favor of God. "Ultimately, we try to be as systematic and structured as we can be, but we can’t create that kind of growth on our own in my opinion. I don’t know anyone that I’ve been able to talk to that’s our size that’s on the same trajectory."
TTI also has a compelling vision that's easy to articulate. When someone gives TTI around $300, the organization is able to plant a church in the majority world.
"It doesn’t mean a steeple and a brick building, necessarily, but it’s easy to grasp what we’re doing and what’s being accomplished. And as we have grown over the years, we’ve been able to better articulate that it’s not just about planting a church, it’s about developing people from a holistic perspective and it’s also about making an impact on the local community. Every church planted is encouraged to care for an orphan or a widow or to deal with trafficking or some sort of social injustice."
How have you changed your message to donors?
The message to their supporters has been filled in and evolved over the organization's 14 years, but it hasn't changed.
"We have always been about reaching the unreached world, making disciples, planting churches and developing leaders," said Jared. "That’s our primary focus and we provide the training and the guardrails to ensure that happens in a way that can be reproduced and multiplied."
Where do you see the biggest risks?
There's a tension in what The Timothy Initiative is doing.
In 2019, the leadership team put together a five-year plan. Then they scrapped it.
"I don’t want to over-spiritualize things, which I know ministries can do too often," said Jared, "But we ... really felt convicted that there wasn’t enough faith in it."
So they increased their five-year goal to:
- Reach 5 million new believers, making new disciples
- Plant 200,000 churches
- Care for hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows
- Reach 5 million new believers, making new disciples
This is a big jump, "a massive faith goal." Planting 87,000 churches took TTI 14 years, now they intend to plant 200,000 in just five. Jared recognizes the biggest risk is the tension between going to new places vs. going too big too fast.
"We’ve got a lot of big, visionary people who want to take on the entire world," said Jared. "And, in fact, our vision is a church for every people in every place, everywhere."
Do you have an internal methodology assessing the organization's strength and capability?
"I would say the short answer is no," said Jared.
TTI's people have spent a lot of time fine-tuning the work in the field. They've got a clear process, clear definitions and clear levels of leadership assigned and attributed. But in terms of the organizational health and the health metrics that would go along with that, they really haven’t put a lot of time and energy into it.
"We’re truly a field-driven ministry at the expense of organizational thinking, I would say."
Do you have a plan for training and development? Does your five-year plan include when to add senior roles?
Jared's team has done some skills-gap analysis, but they haven't defined which positions they're specifically going to need to create. Nor do they have a pipeline of people in progress in order to have the right people ready for the right roles five years down the road.
Two of their leaders are highly gifted in their respective roles and both were in the pipeline for a few years. The international ministry director has been with TTI for 10 years and is a world-class strategist and movement leader who is very confident in his capacity. Their operations manager is newer, but has proven the most effective in all of their fields at getting things in order.
"I think, together, they’re a dynamic duo," said Jared.
What worries you the most?
"I think maintaining quality control is a big one. Our integrity, our ability for our name to be solid is what’s gotten us to this point. We’ve really created a strong reputation. We’re largely unknown, I would say, but in the circles that we are known, our reporting, our accountability, our integrity is what gets us to where we’ve gotten."
This solid reputation is at risk of being watered down as TTI brings in more and more people. And if the organization's ambition is misinterpreted to mean growth = success, the temptation to fudge the numbers will become stronger.
"Adding in an extra zero on a report can easily happen, especially in the majority world where numbers don’t mean nearly as much as they do here," said Jared. "If we have a goal to plant 1,000 churches in a country and we come up with 500, does the leader feel like that was a huge failure? Do they feel shame and like they’ve let everyone down?" If so, that tells all the people they're leading that if they just add a few extra tallies here and there, they could avoid that shame and succeed. Then suddenly, overnight, it looks like TTI planted 1,000 churches, when in reality it was 500.
"We don’t want that to creep in," said Jared. "We’ve been pretty good about encouraging our leaders that we only report what actually happened, not what we hope will happen. Those kind of things can happen as the organization gets bigger. "
How can you be a leader in growing the industry?
The vision is there, in Jared's opinion, but communicating that vision along with an actionable plan has been the missing piece. Many, many great leaders can cast a vision that they're going to change the world, but ask them how and the response Jared usually hears is: "Didn't you hear me? We're going to change the world!"
Getting from vision to implementation is where the breakdown happens.
"I would say for those operating in our space, our vision is always greater than our ability to implement it," said Jared. A growing group of people are rallying around the idea of a church for every people in every place. Leaders around the world talk about putting a church in every village in their state, district or country and when Jared follows up to find out how, the response is often "We're just going to do it."
"What that really means is they’re just going to keep doing what they do, and maybe do it a little bit more," said Jared. "But there’s now the technology to be able to show there’s 4.8 million populated settlements in the world today, places that people live, and they can be mapped down to the equivalent of the village level. So, the plan is, if you want to put a church for every people in every place you’ve got to be able to say where they are and who they are.
"We’re seeing some beginning strides of organizations starting to work together, collaboration in the sharing of data on Christian and church presence down to the village level, so that we can say, with clarity, in this place there are this many people and this many places have churches, these are the places that have Christians and no churches, and these are the places that have no Christians and no churches. Through partnership and collaboration we can say, all right, our group is going to adopt these ten villages, your group is going to target these ten villages, and show over time actual progress of the Great Commission.
"I think what has been lacking to date is the ability to achieve that vision, and it now exists."
So the comprehensive goal for The Timothy Initiative is to grow to $30 million - $50 million while
- Staying focused
- Growing the industry
- Maintaining TTI's culture
"If we can do those three things, the sky’s the limit," said Jared. "Not to get too overly ambitious with saving everybody, doing what we can and what God has called us to do, I think those three are in context together. "
Part 1.5: Where Does the Leader Begin?
In addition to digging into the current state of the nonprofit, our panel dove into areas that impact Jared as a person and the leader of TTI.
Who is mentoring you?
Jared has a few people mentoring him personally. First of all, there's his father, a man Jared described as a great mentor and role model in life and in ministry. Then there's the leadership teacher Jared met during the course of his doctoral studies. They've been talking two or three times a month for the past year.
Jared also reaches out to a few other CEOs who either led large organizations in the past or are leading one now. He always asks them what they regret that they would do differently if they could.
"And I usually try to interview at least one CEO a month that I haven’t talked to, just to get some fresh ideas and fresh thoughts. I can usually pick up one or two good things that I can repurpose and put into practice."
Is anybody saying you should slow down?
Everybody in the organization is "full speed ahead, with the flashers on as you speed by," and Jared is the one person suggesting they slow down a little bit. Trying to get the right balance of faith and practice together, he asks questions about if they can do what they're aiming at and whether they have a way to accomplish their goals.
"I think, closer to the field, casting the vision with leaders, they get excited," said Jared. "Now, do they have the ability to put it into practice? That’s where the leadership development and the pipeline and the intentionality is critical to be able to sustain it and to grow it."
In his doctoral studies, one of Jared's classes asked him to define who he is in a few words. He thought about it and came up with "vision implementation specialist."
"That’s kind of my niche," he said. "Being able to see the vision of every people in every place, and being able to craft and design that it can actually happen is extremely fulfilling for me. Being able to be part of it and to lead a ministry that’s influencing it is what gets me up every single day."
How many hours do you work per week?
"I don't really know."
In addition to running the organization day to day, Jared travels 75-100 days out of the year. He's not sure how many hours he averages, but he does know that when the workday is over, he's done. Jared's learned that he can’t solve every problem in one day, and so he doesn't bring work home with him. That line between work and rest is so clear that people sometimes ask him how he shuts down so easily.
"I don’t know if I can compartmentalize things or what, but I’m able to shut things off when I walk inside the house. And if there’s something big, obviously, it may be on my mind, but I almost got burnt out probably five or six years ago. I was living overseas and when my day was ending, the day in America was starting, so I never really had an off button. Luckily, I’ve been able to overcome that."
Part 2: The Plan for Moving Forward
Once each panelist had a chance to ask their questions, they each offered their insight into how Jared can pursue the growth of The Timothy Initiative without compromise.
1. Focus on organizational health/cultural assessment and planning.
"The thing that I think we can carefully respond to is the organization health," said Larry Andrews.
How do you scale the organization’s capability and internal processes to be efficient and not become a constraint as the organization continues to grow? Larry recommended practical steps, like looking at organization health assessments (e.g., surveys) and cultural assessments, ensuring there’s a training, executing plan for each role, and looking at how to build the cultural affinity across the organization intentionally.
The desire is clearly to continue to be a global organization. With that kind of dimension around scale and cultural background, a plan that intentionally grows around it, measuring and forecasting 3-5 years ahead, is going to be a critical step. Use of a model, e.g., the Galbraith model, can help determine what the organization's structure needs to look like in order to support the vision and methods of measuring progress.
"People-wise, what do those key roles need to have in terms of fit, function and skills?" said Larry. "And then the internal processes, whether it’s reward, recognition, HR — all of those softer processes — just seeing that being an enumerated, measurable plan and thinking about that the same way you think about discipleship-making, at that level of detail, would put The Timothy Initiative into the driver’s seat to really embellish that side of the organization to grow with scale and with confidence."
2. Identify the cultures on which you can have the greatest impact, and develop senior leadership in those areas.
"I like how you’ve identified the senior indigenous leaders as a key area to develop the structure, your process, policies, all those things around that," said Tom Dabasinskas. "I think it's a real key area to explore going forward. And another keyword I’ve heard you say with that is pace, so figuring out what is a realistic pace for not only developing that, but then developing into those different roles is a critical area."
TTI is all over the world, in many different cultures, etc. So Tom suggested Jared determine the few different cultures in which the The Timothy Initiative can really go deeper and hit the ball out of the park. Each one of those cultures has a lot of different development aspects for those senior leaders, so the organization needs to ask where the areas are that they're going to focus on, go deeper and develop strength geographically.
3. Hold on to what's given you success thus far.
Jonathan encouraged Jared to continue leaning on what's made the organization successful in the past as he continues to implement sound practices for further growth. The growth and scale he wants to see is important, and what made TTI's work in the past successful is what will make its future work successful, too.
4. Focus on the health of the organization.
Jonathan also pointed out that healthy organizations, particularly healthy growth within ministry, usually follow health within the organization. It doesn’t matter how good your quarterback is if your receiver’s hands aren’t in the right spot. When you take the time to really focus on the health of the organization, what you’re doing is getting positioned for the next stage.
5. Check your pace, and grow as a leader first
When we're pursuing a worthy and honorable goal, when we care deeply for the people we're serving, it can be tempting to look at high rates of growth in the past and push to keep up the same pace.
"I’m just going to propose one of the best things you can do to get there: Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up," said Jonathan, adding that he knows nobody likes to hear that. "With the growth that you’ve seen and even the pressure that it places on you, the senior leader within an organization, the scalability of an organization has far less to do with its standard operating procedures and its organizational principles than it does with the people who are there and involved in leading it."
Leaders of rapidly scaling organizations must scale rapidly themselves. If Jared wants the nonprofit to have a $50 million-a-year impact, he has to grow as a leader before he can grow the organization to that point. This is where the question of mentoring comes in. Jared already has a lot of people speaking into his life, offering advice and counsel. Jonathan encouraged him to also seek out one or two older men who have been where he is and are close enough to him that they can offer correction, then meet them regularly and frequently. They need to be people with whom Jared can be transparent about his thoughts, his heart and his anxieties, people he can ask to correct him when they see he's wrong.
"The growth that’s needed in you has to go deep to be able to pilot into the next season," said Jonathan.
Finally, Jonathan pointed out that the health of any organization depends on integrity. No matter how noble our work is, the ends never justify sacrificing the integrity of the organization. Refusing to compromise, no matter what, will allow the organization to continue operating into the future, accomplishing the mission it set out to accomplish, whether it's at $50 million, $100 million, $200 million, etc.
"I can’t overstate how important the health of the organization is."
6. Your leaders have to know how to establish, further and maintain the culture.
"I know that your answer to maintaining your culture is in your leadership," said Glenn.
Jared, as the CEO, is the cornerstone of the culture. To be able to cascade that down to virtually every church out there, every leader in the organization has to know how to establish and maintain that culture, whether they're in charge of 100 churches or 10. This requires both skill and understanding.
A book from a few decades ago, “The Pyramid Principle,” said that if you look at the three sides of a pyramid, the base is illustrative of the importance of the quality and quantity of an organization's leadership. You have to stretch out that base before building more on top, otherwise the pyramid ends up becoming lopsided. Both the quantity and quality of leaders is vital to their efficacy in retaining the culture — and everything else.
7. Get alignment among stakeholders.
Glenn added that if Jared wants to maintain the organization's culture and focus, he has to identify all the stakeholders and bring them all into alignment. This is critically important and requires clearly deciding and defining the aspect of the discipline to the focus, the clarity to the vision. Know what it is and how to articulate it clearly, he said. Know the boundaries.
"You mentioned a few times, we’re not just going to change our objective or change what we’re doing based on a particular donation. So you have to understand, where are those boundaries? What is the vision? Where do we have room to adjust and where do we not?"
8. Identify the pieces of the culture that are important and unique.
Similarly, in order to maintain the culture, Glenn advised Jared understand very clearly the most important pieces of the culture.
"You have to be able to specifically identify what it is," said Glenn. "What is it that is unique about your culture? How do we tell people, 'These are the things we’re not going to give on, these are the things that make us who we are'?"
Everybody, whether they're leading many or few, need to understand the non-negotiables.
"You’ve clearly been able to develop training programs to develop leaders. You need to integrate that into those training programs so that, throughout, we can say, 'Here’s how to go plant a church, but here’s how to do it in our culture, here’s how to do it the way that we do it.'"
9. Leverage strategic partnerships and opportunities to generate revenue
"I just see an amazing collateral with The Timothy Initiative for leadership training," said Glenn. "Essentially, you’re doing micro-churches all over the world. We also happen to be in a season when micro-churches are growing rapidly here in the U.S. and Europe and other first-world countries. My consideration for you to think about is: Is there an opportunity there for The Timothy Initiative to speak to those micro-church initiatives? You know, micro-churches planting micro-churches. Could The Timothy Initiative be the mission arm for these micro-church movements? You have exceptional collateral to help equip those kinds of movements and build some credibility in helping people ensure that they have a Great Commission focus as well."
Glenn added that TTI's most critical intellectual property is around its assets created around discipleship making and suggested there may be a way to get churches and other organizations involved in a way that generates revenue. "Getting people engaged personally into the Great Commission seems like an opportunity to maybe extend the industry using the intellectual property that’s at your disposal," he said.
10. Consider the M&A strategy for the industry.
Glenn pointed out that there are a lot of smaller players in this space, and he invited Jared to consider with his board what an M&A strategy looks like for The Timothy Initiative.
"With a lot of aging ministries that are in this space, that might be the million-dollar-or-less organization that has a heart to do what you’re doing," said Glenn. "What are the acquisition opportunities there to displace and absorb some of those ministries, particularly over the next 5, 10 years? Because we see in the for-profit world a lot of turnover in those leadership positions and even existence of some of the organizations. So there might be an opportunity there to look at your M&A strategy and how to bring together a larger segment focused on Great Commission activities. I wanted to leave those as a way to really strategically think about addressing the marketable space for the industry when it comes to Great Commission overseas."
Part 3: Jared's Main Takeaways
"There are a lot of good insights, a lot of good building blocks," said Jared. "It’s kind of like a puzzle, when all the pieces are on the floor and you have to figure out how to get a picture together and then build from that."
Two major themes Jared highlighted as he thought through his next steps were health and planning.
The health of the organization is also going to be reflected in the health of the leaders, he said, so they need to be careful, to make sure their hearts are right. One of the key ingredients to their success has been humility, and it’s very easy when everybody’s patting them on the back, saying how great they are, to start letting pride creep in. We need to stay humble, he said. "We need to continue to learn and need to do the things that it’s going to take."
As for planning, Jared has thought about the future, about a time when TTI is a $50 million organization and what sort of leadership structure it's going to need. "I’ve thought about that, I’ve drafted some outlines and a lot of questions, but I haven’t answered hardly any of them." Answering these questions and thinking through these questions in detail will help Jared's team to start putting those building blocks in place now so nothing stands in the way of their growth.
About the Panel
Tom heads the nonprofit team for OneAccord. He has nearly 30 years’ experience working with nonprofit organizations, identifying goals and practically helping them achieve these goals. He specializes in leading through times of transition, resolving conflicts and building alignment.
Larry had a career in consumer products running operations for two different fortune 50 companies before stepping into nonprofit leadership, leading faith-based nonprofit organizations both domestically and internationally. His specialty is translating mission and vision into executable strategic plans with broad stakeholder alignment.
Jonathan has completed several business turnarounds in various industries. He has an ability to sift through disparate information to identify what is truly important, and is exceptional at translating longer-term vision into bite-sized pieces that teams can execute.
Glenn ran operations for the Western United States for Best Buy, overseeing significant growth for the company. He was part of OneAccord for nearly a decade, working with privately held business owners to help grow and scale operations. Glenn has a unique ability to identify specific pain points and then coach leaders to develop beyond their blind spots.