10 classic movies that could have been about nonprofit work


humphrey-bogart-619157_960_720Despite the awesomeness and complexity of our work, and the fact that we employ 10% of the work force, and the fact that independent studies that I have commissioned found that we have the most attractive professionals among all the sectors, nonprofit is still neglected by the media and society at large. 
I’ve written about the need for more TV shows about our sector. And now, we need to push for more movies. Imagine how much more awesome some of our classic movies would have been, if they had been about nonprofit. Here are some of my ideas, along with potential quotes. #nonprofitmovielines. Go make that trend on Twitter, like you did with #nonprofitpickuplines.

A Few Good Donors: An up-and-coming Development Director tries to convince her ED to change their org’s fundraising strategies, in the process encountering resistance and a complex conspiracy involving budgets, CRMs, the board, and strategic planning. “You want answers? You want the truth?! An effective donor cultivation strategy takes time and resources!”

The Shawshank Restriction: Andy, a new Program Director learns too late that the organization that just hired him had gotten trapped by a burdensome and restrictive multi-year federal grant. The terrifying realities of restricted funding are explored as Andy works to save the remainder of his program and his sanity, using his skills and intelligence to gain the trust of his jaded colleagues and extract the program and organization out of the dilemma. “Get busy living, or get busy dying. Or somewhere in between: just lots of paperwork.”

Nonprofit Fight Club: A depressed Director of Operations feels she has become a cog at her large nonprofit. At a peer learning group of other operation professionals, she meets Tyra, who introduces her to the Nonprofit Fight Club, a secret group of DOs who get together weekly to fight one another, a cathartic release from their day-to-day work of creating systems and processes. “The first rule of Nonprofit Fight Club is…make sure your liability insurance is up to date.”

Brokeback Gala: A painful and heartbreaking story of a nonprofit, desperate for funding, putting on a fundraising event. It was successful, though costing hundreds of staff hours. Each year, the org is compelled to do another event, and a team assembles, drawn by the promise of easy funding. But their hopes and idealism clash against the reality of event planning. “I wish I knew how to quit having events!”

The MSW Graduate. Unsure of his career path after getting a Master in Social Work, Benjamin volunteers at a senior program, where he meets a mentor. With her advice, he explores other nonprofits, falling in love with one and drifting apart from the senior program, incurring his mentor’s jealousy and wrath.  “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to get me to join your advisory board, aren’t you?”

The Shiny: A group of program officers representing different foundations goes off to a cabin on a weekend retreat to discuss and agree to some common priorities. One PO gradually unravels, pushing his colleagues to chase after “innovative” new concepts and programs instead of supporting general operating and existing programs that have been proven to be effective. They resist, but he wears them down one by one. “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny’s white paper!”

Roboconsultant: Set in the future, a consultant suffers an accident and is resurrected as half-robot, half-human super-consultant. He works with
several nonprofits, using newly-honed skills to help develop strategic plans and facilitate retreats, including an incredible power to repeat word-for-word what an internal team member says, but is actually listened to by senior staff and board. “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me to a meeting to operationalize your org’s values.”   

The Work Plan Matrix: Neo, an AmeriCorps VISTA member, feels a general sense of matrix-69681_960_720uneasiness at his organization that he can’t seem to shake. He performs tasks but does not under their importance in the organization’s mission and vision. Sometimes he feels like all he’s doing is busy work. He meets Morpheus, who tells him that he has been working in an illusion of order and purpose. Morpheus shows him the importance of developing a strong work plan matrix that spells out concrete goals, metrics, and deadlines. “You take the blue pill and go back to your cubicle and do assorted disconnected stuff. You take the red pill, and I’ll show you how important having a functional work plan is.”

Frankensteined: An obsessed Executive Director pieces a program together using bits of funding from various sources. Her creation comes to life and must face the horrors of its origin and existence, constantly yearning for stability and acceptance, even as it decomposes and its creator must search for new pieces of funding to keep it together. “It’s alive! It’s alive! For maybe one more fiscal year…”

The Godfounder: Set in the 40s, this is a story of Vito Corleone, who directs a nonprofit empire he has founded that delivers cannoli and hot meals to low-income seniors, and his Deputy Director Michael, who is quickly rising to take on Vito’s mantle while grasping with reservations about Vito’s methods. A suspenseful tale of loyalty, betrayal, generational divides, and the scheming and machinations in the dangerous world of hot-meal services. Someone wakes up with a severed stuffed unicorn head on his pillow. “Take the strategic plan. Leave the cannoli.”

Let me know what other movies you can think of, and it’s OK to spend the next hour tweeting out #nonprofitmovielines

May the Board be with you.

(And, We’ll always have that conference in Oshkosh Wisconsin…)

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  • Becky Ennis Green

    Do you really have a conference in Oshkosh? I have family there. I’d go!

    • Aw, thanks, Becky. But that conference was a few weeks ago 🙁 I had a great time! Everyone was so friendly, and there was cheese everywhere

  • Cloggie

    Can you do something like this every Monday morning? It was so needed!

  • MM

    As a one-year fellow at a great nonprofit, I felt the Matrix one deeply.

  • Paulette Lynch

    I think I need to start reading these late Friday afternoons instead or first thing on Mondays….!!!!!! THANK YOU VU!!!

  • Tarn

    “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny’s white paper!” almost made me spit leftover meeting coffee all over my second-hand keyboard. All of these are brilliant and most importantly, help us all remember that we’re not alone! Thanks Vu!

  • Dawn Veillette Diana

    A Few Good Donors describes my organization perfectly!

  • P Bacon

    “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to get me to join your advisory board, aren’t you?” The MSW Graduate. That made me laugh out loud. Thanks for making my Monday suck a little less.

  • DomusVols

    Vu, another fabulous contribution to the world of funny. How about a Streetcar Named Desperate. Blanche the stretched ED slowly looses her mind trying to keep the wolves from her door, especially Stanley who plots to destroy her at every turn.

  • Melissa

    Obviously…The Hunger Games. “May the odds be ever in your favor!” Just like the DHS SNAP-Ed or benefits application process.

  • willworktomorrow

    That is just hilarious! And so spot on.

  • Kai

    Thank YOU! and my first nonprofit work was in Oshkosh, WI. Coincidence – I think not

  • Anonymous11

    Fantastic writing, as usual! So creative and funny. My favorite is Nonprofit Fight Club.

  • Mary Rizzo

    brilliant! but on your point about the lack of tv shows about nonprofits, do you know about the Kenyan mockumentary series The Samaritans, about an NGO that does nothing? pretty good skewering of savior complexes and aid organizations that do more for themselves than the people they are supposed to help.. http://aidforaid.org/

  • Mindi Slavin Fetterman

    “The fundings only Mostly dead”

  • Adele Coble

    The X-File Audit: Dana is a meticulous realist who maintains client x-files in the basement, while Fox, her spacey partner, hosts meetings without collecting a sign in sheet and flubs background checks. When government lackey Cancer Man announces a surprise federal audit, Dana scrambles to collect the missing pieces to her X-Files to prove her clients really exist. “I want to believe… in record retention systems.”

  • Julie

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Thank you. 🙂

  • Nichole

    Gala Quest
    Lovable but irresponsible leader, Jason Nesmith, tries to cheer on his flagging crew to move forward with yet another empty and fruitless event. When he declares that he has identified a true fundraising event that will turn their organization around and breathe new life into their failing efforts, they listlessly go along even though PR chief, Tawny Madison, tries to dissuade them: “Do you really believe this guy?” Still, the near hopeless crew follows Jason into the unknown and discover their inner strengths and how a true Gala can reinvigorate all of their efforts. Nesmith: “Never give up. Never surrender!” Alexander Dane: “By the suns of free food, you shall be funded!”

  • HoneybadgerIsMySpiritGuide

    The Princess Board
    Private preschool in upscale neighborhood whose Board is dominated by the most beautiful mom in all the land, who valiantly blocks all attempts to raise tuition because she is barely scraping by with three nannies and a live-in au pair for her two children, both of whom attend the preschool. Standing strong in the face of persecution, she bravely declines to help with the Gala because it conflicts with her annual trip to Cabo. “You keep using the term ‘adequately compensated’. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • Quailallstar

    Back to The Past: Nonprofit staff always daydreaming of the days gone by when things were “better”.

  • Karen Tumelty

    DeepChoate The multi-million dollar donor who the endowment at your fancy boarding school is named for goes to jail for a ponzi scheme. Everyone gets screwed.