Will the Term “Nonprofit” Be Our Undoing?

Yes, yes, we know – times are tough. According to MSNBC’s feed yesterday, “In another sign of the growing financial strain on nonprofit groups, the One Laptop Per Child program is paring its staff in half.”

If we want this sector to survive and thrive, to achieve what is possible for our communities, now is the time to STOP acting as “nonprofit organizations” and to start acting as part of a sector aimed at Community Benefit.

If we continue to see each organization as an independent “nonprofit organization” seeking to sustain itself – if we continue to measure our ultimate survival by aiming at the word we are defined against – “profit” – we will indeed have failed.

We will have failed not just in the UNimportant – the survival of an individual organization. We will have failed at our ultimate purpose: making our communities whole.

At times like these, anyone acting independently fails. While we need each other when times are good, we certainly need each other when times are as bad as they are now.

When, however, we see each “independent organization” as a critical part in a larger force for helping our communities, we will collectively succeed, AND our communities will succeed.

Yes, this will require that we re-think how we ALL do our work. It will require re-juggling who is doing what portion of that work. It may indeed include a layoff here or there. It will absolutely include systems changes.

But these changes will not be reactive changes, happening because a bad thing happened TO an independent entity. The changes will have happened because we collectively took control, to achieve something great – community benefit.

As I have said often, the change in thinking from “nonprofit” to “community benefit organization” is not semantics. It is a change in self-perception, but not just about the pride we feel in our work.

It is a change in our deep understanding of the ultimate (and most important) purpose of that work. That purpose MUST be the first consideration, all the time.  If we have financially stable organizations, and no improvement in our communities, can we call that success?  When we focus on “community benefit” rather than “nonprofit,” we know the answer.  The answer is our purpose, and it says so in our name – Community Benefit Organizations.

So how will you convene your community’s organizations and leaders to achieve what is possible? How will you start to work collectively with others in your community, to stop reacting to these economic woes and start taking control of the benefit your community is counting on you to provide?

3 Responses to Will the Term “Nonprofit” Be Our Undoing?

  1. Excellent post, and a most useful suggestion. I want to send this to a couple nonprofits I know, but they’re so busy surviving that they have no time to read. Frustrates me no end.

  2. Oh Hildy! This is right on the money. We’ve made it a point here at our office to not even discuss how tough things might be. We work towards poverty eradication in Kenya, so we are constantly reminded of just how good we have it. Community benefit organization…I like it.

  3. Thanks, Tim!
    And Mary – thanks for sharing your frustrations. We have actually found folks are very happy to talk about new ways of thinking, as the old ways clearly are not working! Perhaps a brown bag lunch discussion? Anyone else have ideas?