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Global nonprofits: Operating model blueprints for going global and doing good

This is the second in a two-part series on what it takes to be an effective global nonprofit.


As technology bridges physical distance with increasing speed, many nonprofit senior leaders have become much more knowledgeable about economics and politics in diverse locations. These leaders are realizing that the issues they are addressing domestically are, in fact, truly global, and that there is great growth potential for organizations that aspire to bring about sustainable, large-scale change. And so, many are making the difficult choice to expand operations beyond the borders of their home countries.

Accenture interviewed senior managers from nonprofit organizations that have expanded globally in order to better understand what operating models enable successful expansion. Accenture’s research revealed that strong global nonprofits pay heightened attention to three factors:

  1. They take an ensemble approach to leadership—they have agile groups whose members can be drawn together in combinations suited to specific decision situations or contingencies.

  2. They are acutely aware of the implications of operating globally on an organization’s essential capabilities and assumptions. The fundamental considerations—which include the organization’s reason for being, its core values and principles, its governance, its norms, its systems, and its processes—must not be taken for granted.

  3. They are in explicit agreement about the management philosophy that underpins their decision-making. They have a default understanding through which the organization executes its work and growth strategy—their operating model blueprint.

This report focuses on the second and third factors: essential capabilities and assumptions and operating model blueprints.


The leaders of global nonprofit currently contend with more complex challenges than ever before as they work to expand their missions into other regions of the world. Expansion requires an organization to become a source of durability in multiple locations. And it necessitates handling all of that against a backdrop of four stark realities: financial constraints, increased competition, increased visibility, and demographic shifts.

Yet, despite these challenges, many global nonprofit leaders are setting more far-reaching goals than ever before. These leaders are realizing that, in many cases, the issues they seek to address are truly global, and they aspire to expand their organizations’ footprints, serve more people, or provide more robust services. And so, nonprofit organizations are making the decision to expand internationally.

To successfully expand beyond borders, however, global leaders must ensure that their leadership structures and operating models are ready to do so. Today’s global nonprofits demand a new breed of senior managers who can redefine the meaning of the word “team.” In addition, these organizations demand new operating models that can effectively guide decision-making under pressure. Prior to making the decision to expand globally, nonprofits must ensure that their leadership and operating models have the necessary components that will make the expansion a success.


In order to successfully expand globally, nonprofit organization must be acutely aware of the organization’s essential capabilities and assumptions, and must be in explicit agreement about the management philosophy that underpins their decision-making—their operating model blueprint.

Across our research, Accenture found several essential capabilities and assumptions that form a nonprofit’s bedrock. The organization’s mission and means, funding model, approach to governance, programs, technology, ability to measure progress, and ability to build and sustain relationships are critical components that must be thoroughly understood prior to expanding internationally.

In addition, Accenture found that nonprofit organizations are primarily utilizing four distinct operating model blueprints. The four ensemble configurations we observed are:

  1. Incubators, encourages global integration through an emphasis on shared values and culture
  2. Diplomats, empower locally while encouraging global conversations
  3. Engineers, fosters global efficiency through process standards and a flat structure
  4. Directors, want decisions to be made by those who are closest to the operations involved


Nonprofit organizations must ensure that they are utilizing the operating model blueprint that will allow for successful global expansion, in accordance with their key essential capabilities and leadership ensembles. Nonprofit leaders can take these three steps to ensure alignment around the blueprint that best fits their ensemble:

  1. Understand what operating model blueprint leaders currently prefer: incubator, diplomat, engineer, or director.

  2. Continually assess how that preferred blueprint helps or hinders the organization’s goals for global expansion and sustainable impact. As organizations evolve and as new global and local contextual pressures or opportunities emerge, it might be advantageous to shift operating model blueprints.

  3. Understand the connection between a given ensemble’s operating model and the organization’s general default approach. Being able to talk about this connection ensures that the ensemble members are aligned to the imperatives of the organization as a whole.

Ensemble leadership, solid fundamentals, and clarity around operating models together make for a powerful package for global nonprofits. Together, they foster a capable organization—one that is resilient, and able to meet and overcome significant obstacles and make sustainable positive change on the global stage.