Tag Archives: nonprofit

Nonprofits with Legs and Teeth

Maybe it’s about baby boomers not retiring, and maybe it’s about ex-hippies in positions to do something they’ve always wanted, or maybe it is just about the world getting more crowded. Could there be a long tail of entrepreneurship, opportunities for people with motivation other than pure profit?  If all was ever fair in love and war, it was always just business for business. Until business became personal. And green. And socially motivated.

I just finished reading the Sunday New York Times piece called “A Capitalist Jolt for Charity”.

Today, the once-struggling venture has morphed into a primarily for-profit enterprise. And the striking transformation of In2Books is emblematic of a larger trend: charities are changing their spots and making use of some of capitalism’s virtues.

The process is being pushed forward by a new breed of social entrepreneurs who are administering increasing doses of bottom-line thinking to traditional philanthropy in order to make charity more effective.

In the old days there were nonprofits. They were foundations and the like, the alleged “do-gooders” that were conceived on missions like fighting poverty and racism, broadening the meaning of art, spreading education. You know them. You’ve lived with them forever. United Way. Toys for Tots. Meals on Wheels.

It occurs to me that the magic of the social enterprise has to do with control and power. If I build a nonprofit foundation to solve a social problem, I depend on being able to raise money through donations. But if I build a social enterprise instead, and figure out how to make my own money, at least enough to power the enterprise, then I’m in charge. I focus on the business model and the social benefit and the underlying purpose, instead of the fundraising.

So social enterprises are doing things like creating channels for developing country handicrafts, or PlayPumps distributing low-power-consumption technologies for poor countries. Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, talks about a new generation of people thinking they could “do better.”

I’m wondering now whether the tradeoffs between social enterprise vs. straight nonprofit isn’t a lot like the tradeoffs of bootstrapping instead of raising money through venture capital. With one course, you own what you build, you get to grow it and steer it and make it work as well as you can. You’re in charge. That’s bootstrapping and, I think, the social enterprise. With the other course, you get more resources but because of that you’re also not in charge, you might be the captain of the ship but you can’t change destinations without permission, and if you change course in mid-journey you’d better be able to defend your decision very well when the board asks about it later.

Of course I can’t make the straight parallel between these two ideas, because where they come apart is the matter of choice. Some bootstrapped business chose that option, but many other never really had the choice of investment. Does the social venture have the option of going straight nonprofit?  That’s hard to generalize. At the very least, these are interesting questions.

All About Leadership

I was at an interesting event Saturday. The Annual Nonprofit Organization Board Training organized by Financial Stewardship Resources.  More than 500 people, almost all of them volunteers, almost all of them running nonprofits, gathering together on a cold and gray Saturday in Corvallis, OR, to learn about nonprofit taxation, leadership, better management, better planning, incorporating a new generation, and so on.

That’s an interesting group. Most of them over 40, dressed comfortably, eager to learn. Very few of them are paid to come. Most of them pay to come. Most were from Oregon, but a lot of other states, and a couple of other countries, were represented. I was with the organizers when they scrambled to find the translator they’d arranged for Polish/English.

I think we all know we’re in tough economic times, and that of course flows over to nonprofits. But that was a pretty good group. What’s important, I think, aside from any single message, is that they were there.

I felt my plan-as-you-go business plan talk went very well. They got it. It’s not just the plan, it’s planning: start with a review schedule, make sure you have focus, metrics, specifics of who-what-when, and build it over strategy. Form follows function.

John Blount, keynote speaker, was recently selected as one of the 17 members of the International Rotary board of directors. He’s also a dentist, lives in Sebastopol, CA, and does a pretty good talk on leadership. He sandwiched his talk around a short video about John Kennedy and NASA and the moon shot in the 1960s. I’ve searched the web for “It’s All About Leadership,” and I’ve come up with a lot of hits, but not that video. Too bad. That’s a great example.  John put leadership into three words: bold, competent, creative. I’m taking the liberty to change bold to courage, for alliteration’s sake, and add my own words as explanation.

    1. Courage: as in having the courage to stick your neck out for a decision, put your ideas on the line, take a stand. Courage to raise your voice in a crowd.
    2. Competence: Yes, I know, as we grow up in the world of adults, it’s surprising to discover how few people are truly competent. John shared a study about what people want in their dentist. Competence. That’s what people want in their leaders too. What a temptation to get into politics. But no, never mind.
    3. Creativity: Are leaders creative? Maybe. Creativity is about focus, perspective, looking at things from the right position, and often from a new position, one that others couldn’t think of. John mentioned the importance of quantity of ideas, more than quality. That’s an important concept.

Finally, one of several amusing quotes in his warmup was this quote from a baseball player named Larry Anderson. I’d never heard of him, or this quote, but:

If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your thing.

And Steve Lange, a good editor, read my early version of this post (which changed a lot with this version) and tipped me off to Demotivators.com, which has some posters based on similar sentiments.