Part III: Re-branding the nonprofit sector in 8 steps

Uncategorized / 15.09.2017

A 3-part series to re-imagine the possible and create a vibrant “for-purpose”sector.

Join us in this dialogue, contribute your ideas!

Over the last two weeks, I posted the first two parts of a 3-part series to begin re-branding the nonprofit sector. Read my earlier posts:

Step 1 : “Change the Name, Change the Narrative” (I use the term “for purpose” in lieu of “nonprofit”, as my contribution to the dialogue of adopting a new term to describe tax-exempt charitable organizations.)

Steps 2 through 4: “Think Money First! Define and Enshrine Sustainability”.

Today I’ll discuss steps 5 through 7 raising our standards for funders, staff and board leaders. And then move into step 8 to encourage all of you to engage in a dialogue to generate ideas for how we can break the culture of scarcity that has plagued the sector for decades.

Step 5: Raise the standards for how funders invest in human capital

Rusty Stahl and his team at Fund the People, are impressively informing grantmakers and donors about the importance of throwing out an archaic paradigm of sweat equity (doing more with less) being the norm for the talented people who dedicate their lives to this sector. They are educating funders to “Fund the People” and strategically invest in for purpose professionals who are the bedrock of civic life. But, we should ask ourselves why is the “for purpose” sector having to push this kind of human capital agenda? Our communities, environment, and economy all benefit when for purpose leaders have the support to not just survive, but to thrive. We would never expect a for-profit company to do anything less than invest in its people to help drive the company’s success. Why don’t we have the same standards for the for purpose sector?

Step 6: Raise the standards for nonprofit management education

Many nonprofit management education programs skim the surface as it relates to the two most challenging responsibilities for purpose leaders have: 1) creating a culture of fundraising throughout the organization, and 2) building an effective, fundraising board of directors. These educational programs have to change and meet the realities of what it’s like to run a for purpose organization on a day to day basis, with resource generation being the most challenging, yet critical variable to fulfill missions sustainably. In addition, boards have the responsibility of hiring and supporting the executive director. Therefore, board members should focus less on creating job definitions for executive directors which require expertise in fundraising, finance, governance and programs. And, instead make it an ongoing priority to support the executive director’s success by providing an organizational culture and environment that is conducive to fundraising success, and good management . (See step 7)

Step 7: Raise the standards for board leaders and offer more rigorous education and training

There are an estimated 20 million board members in the US, serving 1.6 million for purpose organizations (BoardSource, 2012). But the majority of these board members are not actively governing their organizations : 71% are not actively fundraising, 68% are not actively monitoring programs, and 56% are not actively planning for the future (Urban Institute 2007).

For purpose organizations are legally required to have a board of directors that takes responsibility for “ensuring resources for the organization.” But these volunteer directors must meet no legal requirement to demonstrate their knowledge and capabilities to serve. How can such a critical population of leaders, responsible for our sector’s financial strength and sustainability, not have required training or competency standards to meet?

Study, after study, has shown the correlation between fundraising success and board member involvement. What about the idea of funders coming together to fund a nationally-recognized credential of board leadership with built-in incentives for board members to participate?

 Step 7.5: Make research accessible and actionable for board leaders

One of the key strengths of the for-purpose sector is our ability to fund and develop research – especially research that influences the way we carry out our own work. We are great at sharing lessons learned. But it’s probably safe to assume that much of this research doesn’t reach the 20 million for-purpose board members. How can we make this important information more accessible and actionable for them? What if we were to create a portal to consolidate and disseminate the various studies and research on fundraising, leadership, governance and sustainability? What if this portal could provide easy-to-understand synopses of the findings so they could make better decisions?

With technology today, we can do these things. What’s holding us back?

 Step 8: Begin a national dialogue to develop a new name and narrative

For purpose leaders, philanthropy, government, academia and business should join together on-line and in-person with the goal of mapping out a concrete plan to create a new and authentic public identity for our sector.

I offer this post to all people who work or volunteer for charitable organizations, to all donors, to all philanthropic, civic and academic groups, to all community-minded businesses, to everyone who has ever benefited from the efforts of civil society.

This invitation is an expression of our faith in this sector. So don’t hesitate. Comment right here and now on this blog. Or if you prefer, email me with your ideas to re-brand our sector.

Let’s inspire a new blossoming of community service and philanthropy by dialoging with the aim of generating a new narrative that focuses on impact, sharing ideas for how to break away from the culture of scarcity, and raising our personal standards so we expect nothing less for the servant leaders who are creating a world that works for everyone.

“Our identity doesn’t arise from the lack of a profit motive. Our identity comes from our work – through our efforts to improve the human condition, through our quest for change. We are the for purpose sector.”–Sylia Obagi

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