Is Your Organization Actually Hurting Those It Is Intending to Help?
A nonprofit organization is created with the best of intentions. It is a way to address the service gaps in the marketplace and to uplift the planet.
As the work begins, there are many other moving pieces that are needed to run an effective business. These other pieces can seem overwhelming, but when we forget the key element, that this is a business, we can do more harm than good for those we can be helping – which is why we are doing this work in the first place.
I have heard many stories of well-meaning organization founders and executive directors who are very passionate about their cause but do not know how to run the practical, business side. There are struggles with finding funding, staff are unhappy (which result in frequent turnover), and client services get interrupted. Smaller organizations that have been around for a decade or more and remain stagnant, still struggling to have the proper systems in place, results in chaos and confusion for volunteers, leadership and potential donors.
Physicians must take an oath to first do no harm when treating patients. Yet, in the nonprofit arena, where we are trying to make the world better, struggling nonprofits are inadvertently harming those they are trying to protect by not running the organization as the business that it is — either because of a lack of knowledge on business or an unwillingness to allow others to help.
As Nell Edgington discusses in her book, “Reinventing Social Change,” nonprofit workers are taught through the existing system that they are lesser because of the limiting restrictions placed upon them within this field, an antiquated perspective originating from the benevolence movements of the 1700s and 1800s. The charity mindset is restricted thinking and seriously problematic as the evolution of needing to employ experts with the knowledge and experience to adequately address the modern problems.
Nonprofit professionals need to be able to shift their way of thinking and be willing to ask for and receive support. This does not make them lesser, it makes them stronger. So, how can they get the needed support? Here are three ideas.
1. Recruit a Strong Board of Directors
Boards of directors are nonprofits’ champions for success. When they recruit strong board members who are passionate about the mission and vision, they are able to leverage the individual member’s different experience to guide them in ensuring they have the right strategy (and accountability) for success. While founders and executive directors may be more knowledgeable in programmatic delivery, the board members are able to balance out the knowledge with their business acumen.
2. Leverage (and Expand) Its Existing Network
A nonprofit’s network allows for peer support to be there to celebrate over the wins, but also to be there during the difficult times. Although we don’t always like to discuss the challenges, especially when there can be a perception of competing over funding, at the end of the day, we are all here with the common mission of uplifting the world. When nonprofit employees are able to become vulnerable and talk about any problems they are having in their organizations, they are able to pool resources and collectively find a solution, even about funding.
3. Working With a Specialized Consultant
A consultant brings an expertise to the table that is neutral, allowing them to separate the emotion of being too close to the problem and see what is being missed by the organization. They are able to do a holistic, deep-dive into problematic areas to find solutions.
Consultants must remember the clients served and put their pride aside to complete the mission of the intended work. When nonprofits are not getting the support they need to run as an effective business, they are hurting more than helping.