*Originally posted for Nonprofithub.org.
Before you get too upset with the title of this article, hear me out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some of the coolest, most passionate and intentional people through working in the nonprofit sector. I’m excited that there’s an entire industry of employed individuals, dedicated to not just filling their pockets, but making social change.
To be fair, it’s not the nonprofit sector that I inherently dislike, there are just a few things that really grind my gears. Luckily, they’re all things that can be changed with the right amount of effort in the right place.
The nonprofit sector is full of preconceived notions. Not the least of these come from the name itself. The “nonprofit” sector; an entire category of a capitalist society spending time and effort to accomplish a difficult task, but not bring home any bacon. Why is making money a bad thing? Something like “Social Sector” might make it a little less negative.
It’s always fun getting to tell my friends that I worked my tail off, costing me a couple extra limbs, to graduate from a Big Ten school in four years – all to take a job at an organization that “doesn’t make any money.” The response is typically a proverbial pat on the head and a “good for you, bud!”
Interestingly enough, though, my job at Nonprofit Hub was built around finding new revenue streams that didn’t include grants or traditional fundraising efforts. A way to make money for our organization so we can achieve the mission of Nonprofit Hub, and pay the bills that keep the lights on in our homes – just the same as any job a graduate accepts (and dare I say, even with comparable pay).
For some reason, since we’re dedicated to changing the world, society thinks we’re supposed to drive rusty cars and sit in crappy chairs to play the part of being a nonprofit. I say enough. “Nonprofit” is a tax standing, not a profitability standing. Revenue is not a curse word. It’s time for nonprofits to get over the awkwardness and talk about the birds and the bees; how to be self-sustaining. For-profits have just as much of a social responsibility as a nonprofit, so why are we the ones living the most frugal?
2. Poor Business Practice
I’ve seen it multiple times in the nonprofit sector – the snowball effect that is bad business. It starts with hiring the wrong person (or not hiring someone you desperately need) and leads to either poor quality of work, or one person getting overworked and not being able to give any one of their responsibilities the proper attention it craves.
Another epidemic is hiring someone simply because of their passion for a cause and is willing to be paid less (or nothing) because of it. Not that it’s bad, but passion isn’t enough to be successful at a job, nonprofit or not.
For example, my brother works at a sports software company. While he was going through the hiring process, he quickly learned that they didn’t care much if he liked sports or not, even though that’s the kingpin of their software. They were more interested in whether or not he was the best option to hire for the available QA position. Having a mentality of hiring attitude and skillset, not just passion, will create a more potent team to achieve your mission.
In business, I’m sure you’ve heard that what gets measured gets managed. Unfortunately all too often nothing gets measured or managed in the nonprofit sector. Things fly under the radar, deadlines get missed and menial tasks take weeks to complete. This includes important lists, social media, community events, website traffic and more.
3. The Inevitable Propensity for Pussyfooting
I’m not much of one for routine – honestly, that ends up being both a good and a bad thing – but I think the nonprofit sector has gotten itself into a bit more of a rut rather than a routine. The effort to raise money tends to look the same every year; a fundraising event here, a city-wide giving day there, followed up by an ill-planned, frantic year-end ask.
Not that any of those things are inherently bad, but fall short at any one of those strategies and you’re sitting in the same chair as any other organization doing the same thing year after year. Think about what’s next before you get to it. Strategize like a startup or a for-profit. Learn how to be crafty and MacGyver your way through stagnancy and into success.
Don’t be afraid to challenge what other nonprofits are doing, whether they’re in line with your mission or not. Don’t follow the crowd, but challenge the way things are done. Do you have a social media account just to check the box of having it? What would happen if you deleted it?
Maybe it would be detrimental, or maybe it would free up time to come up with a new and better revenue stream that doesn’t include a half-baked strategy for the same city-wide giving day that benefits the payment processor just as much as the nonprofits that are participating.
Hopefully this article didn’t make you too upset. If it did, or if you have supplementary commentary, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me a Tweet. Otherwise, go forth and innovate.