Audacious Agency

incremental growth, nonprofit growth, grow cause, flywheel

What is the Flywheel?

In Good to Great Jim Collins uses the flywheel to describe a related key practice found in successful companies. Collins asks us to picture a giant “massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, two feet thick, and weighing 5,000 pounds. Now your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.” It takes a lot of energy, pushing hard, to get it moving a little bit. And after great effort the flywheel makes one rotation. You push again and again to keep it turning. After a while it’s a bit easier, until finally the wheel seems to spin on its own at a high speed. That’s how doing anything worth doing happens: It can be slow and hard, but eventually, if you keep pushing and improve steadily, you achieve momentum.

“The flywheel image captures the overall feel of what it was like inside the companies as they went from good to great,” says Collins.

No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process—step by step, action by action, decision, turn by turn of the flywheel—that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.

nonprofit flywheel jim collins grow your cause

Nine short videos. Jim Collins describes the concept.

The Flywheel & Nonprofits

The flywheel framework can help nonprofits grow by creating a self-sustaining cycle of positive momentum. It’s based on the idea that a small amount of effort applied consistently over time can lead to significant progress and growth.

  • Focus on building momentum by consistently executing on the mission and making progress towards the goals. This could involve setting clear targets and tracking progress, celebrating successes along the way, and communicating the impact of their work to stakeholders.
  • Leverage existing resources, such as their networks, volunteers, and partnerships, to build momentum and create positive feedback loops. This could mean engaging supporters in fundraising and outreach activities, developing partnerships with other organizations, and creating volunteer opportunities.
  • Build capacity by investing in training, technology, and infrastructure. This could involve investing in staff development, upgrading technology systems, or improving processes to increase effectiveness.
  • Continuously learn and improve by gathering feedback from stakeholders, monitoring progress towards goals, and adapting their strategies based on what works. This could involve collecting data on program outcomes, soliciting feedback from clients and donors, and regularly reviewing and updating strategic plans.

Turning the Flywheel

48-page Monograph

by Jim Collins


Good to Great and the Social Sectors

By Jim Collins

Free Online PDF


Turning the Flywheel — 17 minute Audio Summary

Free Audiobook


Podcast fromThe Knowledge Project — Jim Collins: Keeping the Flywheel in Motion

2 hours 23 min.


Podcast: Joan Garry interviews Jim Collins on Good to Great

33 min.