As we close out another year with the turn of the calendar to January, many of us spend some time reflecting on the lessons learned over the past 12 months while setting organizational goals for the year ahead. We need to take the time, not only to do this on a personal and organizational basis, but as a profession. I think it is important that as a sector we take stock of where we have been, where we are and where we need to go in order to stay nimble – while continuing to increase our meaningful societal significance. We can all agree that the times they are a changing.
As we continue to march our way through the second decade of the new millennium, the nonprofit sector looks much different than it did even two years ago, let alone in 2000. Technological tools, data analytics, interpersonal communication options, physical work environments and service delivery are just a few of the ways our work world is rapidly changing. Corporations are now focused on social enterprise; the conversations and perceptions of how they make social impact are changing. Are we as a sector ready for this?
Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector is not always known for its adaptability or quick response to change. Misguidedly, we often reject the idea of “running a nonprofit like a business” which causes our sector to be perceived as accepting a “status quo” or “this is the way we have always done it” mentality. This also reinforces the expectations of “minimal overhead ratios,” “outputs vs. outcomes” and the proverbial misperception that we need to be “saved” by the for-profit sector. Not surprisingly, this continues to cause tension and maintain an undercurrent of lack of respect and frustration felt by us as the practitioners of social good.
“Failure” is still a bad word among our sector and is not celebrated as a learning experience, as it is with our corporate counterparts, due to how funding for such projects is obtained. With few dollars available for venture philanthropy, the competition is fierce, limiting the ability for innovative solutions to be discovered and rapidly implemented across subsectors.
My hope for 2018 is that we as a sector begin to be as recognized for our specialties, expertise and impact as our for-profit counterparts. I hope we embrace the fact that at the end of the day, we too are in business – the business of doing good for our community, country and world. Our work is vital to the economic and social success of our county. We are the second largest employer behind manufacturing. Our products are safe housing options, research to find cures for disease and hot meals for the homeless. Our services include removing barriers to education and job skills training, mentorship, mental health programs and youth interventions.
How can this mentality be implemented in our nonprofit organizations this year? Let’s walk before we run. Invest in team training on business skills, contribute to cross sector conversations, attend networking events, read traditional “best business practices books” and implement key ideas, have a Board focus group to discuss and update strategic plans. Set one, three- and five-year program and fundraising goals. Seemingly small steps can make big results for our stakeholders and those we serve. Let’s seize the opportunity to do business in 2018, but not as business as usual!