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Asset Mapping and Financial Sustainability

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the theories, concepts, and approaches of asset mapping as a strategy to help nonprofit organizations identify obvious and hidden assets within their communities, and mobilize them to connect issues and needs with assets, and foster the financial sustainability of a nonprofit organization. The chapter examines the community context of nonprofit organizations in relation to community groups, neighborhoods, and larger social systems that influence quality of life. The chapter includes the concept and theory of community capacity, models of asset-based development for building community capacity, empowering individuals and groups, generating funding from new sources, and creating additional paths toward financial sustainability.


The premise of an asset-based conceptual model is that individual strength and opportunities must be acknowledged and the individual must feel that such strength and opportunities are contributions to a process for change or overcoming a challenge (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). The asset-based conceptual model is an alternative approach to the traditional deficit-based model that focuses on needs, problems, deficits, as opposed to the opportunities, capacities, talents or skills of the individual (Cramer & Wasiak, 2006).

The asset-based conceptual model has been used in business as a strategy to foster growth and increase performance (Ross & Bramley, 2003). It has also been used in the community-development movement as an alternative path focusing on the individual, associational, institutional, and natural resources of a community as opposed to their problems or deficits, thus using such resources as a holistic catalyst for community action or change (McKnight & Kretzmann, 1996). Mapping individual and organizational assets and capacities is considered the first step toward community regeneration. Kretzmann and McKnight (1993) categorized these assets into four categories: (1) individual capacities (personal income, gifts of labeled people, individual local businesses, and home-based enterprises); (2) associational and organizational assets (citizen associations, associations of business, financial institutions, cultural organizations, communication organizations, and religious organizations); (3) community-based assets controlled by outsiders (postsecondary institutions, public institutions and services, public schools, police, fire department, libraries, parks, vacant land and commercial structures and housing, and energy and waste resources); and (4) non-community-based assets controlled by outsiders (public capital improvement expenditures, and public information). Buckingham and Clifton (2001) asserted that two assumptions constitute the foundations for building an asset-based organization: (1) "each person's talents are enduring and unique" (p. 7), and (2) "each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength" (p. 7).

Chapin (1995) suggested that social work interventions and social policy development models should focus on the strength of individuals and their environment, rather than the problems and pathologies, in order to empower individuals and communities to overcome challenges they may face and to create sustainable changes. Saleebey (2000) advised social workers to learn from people who were able to survive and overcome demoralization, abuse, illness, or oppression. He believed that such natural survivors accumulated a great deal of learning experience, which is an asset that can be useful in other situations, including attaining an academic goal. Benson (1997) introduced 40 developmental assets (e.g., family support, clear and consistent boundaries and expectations, intergenerational relationship, and participation in community activities) that are considered critical for raising healthy adults for communities and society. Seligman (1991) has conducted long-term human and animal research, and found that even helpless and depressed people can use their pessimism as an asset for an optimistic worldview by learning how not to take everything personally, focusing on problem-solving actions, viewing setbacks as temporary, and recognizing that beliefs are not facts, and can thus be challenged. Katz (1997) argued that past adversities and stressful experiences or even experience of failure can be transformed into assets that an individual can use to validate pain, celebrate resilience, and build future success. In that sense, failure to complete high school and alternatively earning a general equivalency diploma (GED) can transform a past experience of failure into success, which can be used to sustain future academic persistence or attainment of an education goal. This corroborates Saleebey's assertion that an inventory of individual assets (talent, capacities, knowledge, survival skills, personal virtues) and environmental assets (healing rituals and coping skills) can serve as resources for helping a person adapt to stressful situations and overcome challenges (Saleebey, 2001). In fact, Paek (2008) found that asset-based instructions contribute to positive self-efficacy and increase performance of school children in Boston public schools.

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