Flower Child and Conformity: National and Local Chapters Control Issues
Conformity sounds like a bad word in our "follow your passion" society.
Being a flower child from way back, I understand the aversion to the word. I have done my share of railing at "the man." But in nonprofit, nonconformity can mean sacrificing the well-being of those served by your mission. Conformity in our world means consolidation of execution method, if not actual entity.
There are several legal structures at work in national nonprofits, which I will generalize very casually here:
- National can go straight to hell. If they come up with an idea, it is a bad one.
- I have some dictates from national, but we do some stuff autonomously at the chapter/region/district/state level.
- I have to do every single thing national tells me.
The structures noted above are sometimes also a path many national organizations take in a tortured, linear fashion. There is continual pressure from local to hamper or derail consolidation, and that is an energy-sucking thing to fight, taking energy and resources from the mission.
Why do local staffs fight consolidation? Opposition only has a few flavors: First, I am afraid you will take my job. Second, I am afraid you will take my choice. Dead last is I am afraid you won't make good decisions for this nonprofit.
I lobby national and local entities for considered consolidation. I completely get that we need to buy every envelope at the lowest cost possible. I get that application of a program has to have some consistency or we can't measure anything and thus can't improve. What I don't get is why we would ever shut down our R&D departments.
Experimentation at the local level is the most powerful way to find new and better ways of doing things, and to understand how to adapt to our changing environment. In the process of consolidation, we are almost universally failing to set up systems in which good ideas can bubble up, having been created locally, to be tested nationally.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.