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Hey, you want nonprofits to act more like businesses? Then treat us like businesses

bitmoji-20151213223903A couple of months ago I was at a conference, and during lunch the keynote speaker got up and paced the stage and mentioned several times about how we nonprofits need to be more like for-profits. Despite the two drinks I had had that morning—stop judging; it was a Saturday—I found myself getting more and more irritated. This happens over and over. Seriously, if I hear one more person blather on and on about how we primitive, inept do-gooders should learn from our sophisticated siblings from the business sector and get into earned-income and blah blah, I’m going to roll my eyes so hard that they will pop out of my head, and then I will have to find them to put them back in my eye sockets but I won’t be able to see so I will have to feel around on the floor to find them while freaked-out passers-by scream all around me.

Our nonprofit sector has an identity issue, and I think we should resolve this if we are going to reach our potential. Are we nonprofits businesses, or are we something else entirely? I’ve talked to lots of nonprofit leaders who are proud of their work and who say, “Nonprofit businesses are businesses! But instead of making money for our stockholders, we create dividends in benefits to the community!”

But lately, I’ve started wondering if perpetuating this philosophy is actually harming us. Ideally, yes, we are businesses, and we should be accorded the same level of respect. But the frustrating reality is that we are judged as businesses without given the rights and resources to fully operate as businesses. If funders and donors and society want us to be like businesses, then fine, but we also need the following:   Continue reading