Tag Archive: nonprofit sector


What Should Nonprofits Really Be Thankful For This Year?

I was having a conversation with a “NEW” friend of mine last week.  She recently moved to Michigan from California and is just beginning to feel her first taste of a bitter Michigan winter.  Nestled in with her newfound hatred for temperatures below 50 degrees was a pinch of homesickness for her sunny home 2000 miles away.  I think this is something we’ve all grappled with from time to time.  Feeling miles away from our comfort zone and baffled slightly by the world around us.  To some, it’s a bummer.  To me, it’s a time for our evolutionary fitness to kick in!

The phrase most commonly associated with evolution is “survival of the fittest.”  This phrase has been used to spur competition and to explain winners and losers.  As nonprofits, our fitness lies in one magical word – resilience.

As nonprofits, we should be thankful for this resilience.  Why?

It’s simple.  We (the wonderful members of this club we call the nonprofit sector) are resilient!  Our development professionals are always searching for new ways to raise money in an ever changing fundraising climate.  Our legal teams are hit with new laws every time they turn around.  We lose a major donor and are forced to find two to replace it and we always do.  We do this all with skeletal staffs and budgets that make a lemonade stand look like a Fortune 500 company.

At many nonprofits, staff must be able to wear several hats, like the employee who manages the annual fund while simultaneously serving as the communications director; the accountant who can debug a computer; or the executive director who goes on coffee runs and happens to be the only one who knows how to unjam the copier.

This year, look around your office and be cognizant of the examples of resilience around you.  You’re going to go around your table at Thanksgiving this year announcing what you’re thankful for.  Why not do the same with your coworkers?  Before you clear out your e-mail on Wednesday, take a moment to tell your team how amazing and resilient they are.

Written by  Robb Drzewicki

 

Starting a Nonprofit Is Like Choosing a Halloween Costume

One of the awesome pumpkins carved during NEW's 5th Annual Family Pumpkin Carving night at the NEW Center

 

Every year, in late October, I torment myself. It’s two days before the big Halloween party and I’ve put off my costume until now. Sure, my wife and I talked about it. We even came up with a few ideas. We had plans as far back as September.  We just didn’t do anything about them. Over the last eight years, I think my wife and I were happy with one or two of our costumes. I’m guessing this is pretty universal. People love ideas, but don’t always take action on them.

The same can easily be said about starting a nonprofit. I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone has a great idea to make the world a better place.  We’ve each got a thought in our head that could help to inspire, educate or benefit humanity. We simply don’t all take action on them. In the spirit of the season, I’ve put together a few helpful ideas for both of these conundrums: “What should I be for Halloween?” And, “How can I change the world?”

1. Make Sure You’re Comfortable – First of all, no one wants to be dressed as a “sexy watermelon” when it’s 30 degrees and raining. Choose layers that allow you to go from the cold outdoors of trick or treating to the warm inside of a party. Plus, most adults now understand that putting “sexy” in front of something doesn’t automatically qualify it as a costume.
The same should be said about starting a nonprofit. Be comfortable in your mission. Make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about and be comfortable with the idea of success. Also, make sure to “layer” the ideas you have to raise funds and take action on your mission. Having a few different ways of completing your mission allows you to keep moving forward whether the economy is hot or cold.

2. Don’t Force Yourself to Explain It Constantly – My cousin showed up to this year’s party dressed as Frieda Kahlo. I’m a fan of Latin American feminist heroes and that unibrow certainly gives a big clue as to who it is. But, my cousin spent most of the party explaining that she wasn’t dressed as a Ukrainian hipster.
When a nonprofit calls itself a food bank or a cancer research foundation, you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Wear your mission on your sleeve and make sure it’s easy to explain to everyone you meet. In other words, keep it simple. People will respond better to a group they understand.

3. Don’t Get in Over Your Head – Someday soon, my son will want me to make him a fully functional Transformer costume. I’m crafty, but I’m not a special effects artist. I’ll do my best to put something together that he thinks is still “cool” but doesn’t cost me a quarter of a million dollars in CGI graphics. The trick is to ask what part of the costume he thinks is the best and work from there.
In the same way, we don’t necessarily want to claim our nonprofit mission to be “End World Hunger” or “World Peace”. While these can be part of the greater goal (like a Transformer), there is probably one aspect of the ultimate goal that you could focus on most effectively. Let’s try to facilitate world peace by educating on the topic of tolerance locally, hopefully expanding over time.

4. If You’re Going to Do Something Popular, Be Creative – Every Halloween party is likely to have a handful of mafia gangsters, pirates, and superheroes. The least you can do is modify your popular costume to make it a bit more unique. Are you a policeman or a 1970s TV detective? Are you a ghost or the ghost of Albert Einstein?
There are many nonprofits that try to help the poor and cure diseases. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a few more. Just understand that if you’re going to do something similar to what another group already does, you need to set your creative bar higher. How do you help people or raise money that is markedly different from the rest of the pack? Do you ask for money to keep the homeless warm or do you have an army of expert quilters that repurpose old clothing into warm blankets?

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Experts – If you don’t know how to sew, ask a friend who does. No one will think less of you or your Marie Antoinette costume just because had help making it.
Groups like NEW (shameless plug) are a great source for information on how to start your own nonprofit. They’ve got access to all the information you’ll need and the experience necessary to make sure you’re set up for success. With an expert craftsperson by your side, no costume or mission statement is impossible.

6. You Can’t Always Do it on Your Own – Face it, you’re going to look pretty silly showing up to a party alone dressed as Colonel Mustard. Why not make a few calls and show up with Ms. Peacock and Professor Plum as well? You’ll see that your costume is better explained and multidimensional.

If you’re going to start a nonprofit, it would serve you well to have a coalition before you start filling out paperwork and hosting spaghetti dinners. Having an initial board of directors in place before incorporating will ensure a focused and properly thought out mission. It’s always a good idea to get a second or third set of eyes before finally getting down to business.
Most importantly, make sure not to keep putting it off. You’ll end up with a head full of ideas covered by a sheet. Good luck and have a Happy Halloween!

Written by  Robb Drzewicki

 

Establishing Productive and Effective Advisory Councils for Nonprofits

Diana Kern, Vice President of Programs

Why establish an advisory council/group, board emeritus council, or other such non-governing body?  First, let’s talk about what these bodies are, or can do, for nonprofits.

What is an Advisory Council?  
An advisory council/group is usually a collection of individuals who bring unique knowledge and skills which complement the knowledge and skills of the formal board members in order to more effectively govern the organization. Advisory groups are sometimes formed to provide status to people, for example, retiring CEOs of the nonprofit, exiting board chairs, term-limited board members, or major contributors that have no desire to attend board meetings. Some people form Advisory Groups because they want “recognized names” in the community that they can add to their letterhead with hopes this will draw funds, but they put no formal requests of these people and do not really communicate well with them. Other Advisory Councils are formed to provide subject matter guidance to a nonprofit that might have a scientific or medical mission.  These Advisory Councils are just that, experts that help provide data, thoughts and support to the Executive Director and Board on a specific disease, medical condition or technology.

An advisory group does not have formal authority to govern the organization. Unless otherwise provided for in the bylaws it cannot issue directives which must be followed. Rather, the advisory group serves some purpose (or should), that is missing in any other governance structure.  The advisory group can be standing (or ongoing) or ad hoc (one-time) in nature.

Most governance experts will recommend that you avoid calling this non-governing body a “board.” There is only one fiduciary board and reserving that word for the governing body is best. Some advisory groups feel if they are bringing in the majority of the donations they should be able to make the decisions.  Your bylaws shouldclearly define what body governs the nonprofit.  Just because someone is the largest donor for a charity should not give them ultimate decision making over the mission.

Clarify What You Want From This Group
For Executive Directors/CEO’s and the Board of Directors you must first ask yourself what you desire from an advisory group.  What is your reason for wanting such a group?  You must have a clear objective for establishing this group and then its purpose must be clearly defined and communicated.   Too often the group ends up becoming a long list of names on the nonprofit’s letterhead of old board members, or “name recognition” people that do not even contribute to the organization financially or otherwise and the fiduciary board has little to no contact with these individuals. Is this really effective?  How will the nonprofit benefit from this type of structure?  How can advisory groups be ambassadors for the mission if they are never informed about outcomes and metrics?

Things Your Advisory Group Could Do
Good advisory groups are ones that:
• Have a passion for the mission of the nonprofit
• Are willing to be called upon for assistance with resource allocation, introductions to key people or will be advisors to the board or CEO
• Are willing to make a financial contribution to the nonprofit annually
• Will be ambassadors for the nonprofit in their circles of influence
• Are kept informed about key milestones, metrics or accomplishments so they can spread the word about the work of the nonprofit
• Don’t want to attend monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly board meetings, but are willing to attend one annual meeting a year…a State-of-the-State meeting where they can be educated, inspired and engage in discussion about vision and mission
• Serve a key “advisory” voice for medical conditions or diseases to help the nonprofit ensure their services and programs are helpful and effective and that the mission is the primary focus of the nonprofit.

Good boards will draft a charter for their Advisory Group and then ensure all trustees agree with the focus and function of the group.  Questions that are clarified in the charter are:
1. What will the size of the group be?
2. Will we have term-limits for this group?
3. Will the group have a chair person?
4. Will the group meet?
5. Who will be the staff liaison to this group?
6. What are the types of things they will be called upon to do?

Communication with Advisory Groups
Good boards and CEOs will make sure to support a communication plan with their advisory groups. Good boards know that they must keep their advisory members engaged and passionate about the mission while NOT burdening them with meetings or too many requests. You must be strategic about how you use them and how you honor them.  Ways to communicate with advisory members include:
• Including advisory group members on electronic communication lists for newsletters and event information
• A quarterly letter from the Board Chair and CEO about key activities or metrics meant to inform the member so they are educated and continue to feel inspired
• An annual meeting with the Advisory Group to thank them and educate them on the “state-of-the-state” of the nonprofit and to get their opinion on a key strategy or question facing the nonprofit
• Invitations, with personal notes from the Board Chair or CEO for key events

Summary
Before launching an advisory group or continuing with the one you have, be sure you have a clear objective in mind for the use of this group and how they will be engaged and communicated with.   Quality advisory groups can add a significant level of leadership and support for nonprofits.

Written by Diana Kern, NEW’s Vice President of Programs for the May edition of  NEWs Notes.  Join Diana for the final session of our three-part Webinar series – “Making The Ask: Individuals & Corporations.”  Register here.

Apropos to this week’s National Volunteer Week 2011, and our most recent Spring Into Service event, this week’s blog will cover the topic of volunteer engagement and its contribution to the success of your organization. 

A volunteer is defined as a person who voluntarily expresses a willingness to undertake a service.  In the nonprofit world, recruiting, retaining and managing volunteers is a challenge but volunteers are a great resource that.  If implemented correctly, your volunteer engagement program can create success and will also build a network of supporters promoting the work that your organization does. 

Who Are They, These Kind, Giving, Community-Member-Volunteers?

Community members that voluntarily give assistance to your organization will represent a variety of characteristics (age, orientation to your organization, professional career/specialty), but they will be similar in that they all made the decision to take time to help your organization succeed in the work that you do.  Here are a few different examples of types of volunteers you might hear from or see at your volunteer events:

1)    The Community Volunteer: this volunteer is someone (or a group of someones) who come to support your organization at larger, volunteer-based community events—theater production, meal event, race, building renovation projects such as painting or organizing offices, classrooms or libraries, etc.  They might have found you through community bulletin boards or through an online search Like United Way’s Volunteer Solutions site.  These volunteers can be one-time volunteers or you might see them often.  Both are a consistent contributor to the success of your events in the short term, and to the success of your organization in the long term.

2)    The Long Term Volunteer: this volunteer is someone who has the desire to commit his or her help to your organization for an extended amount of time.  Often this volunteer will be assigned a project like database management, file organization, and other organization-specific projects.  These projects are created by the organization and the volunteer together making sure to have shared goals and expectations.

3)    Your Board! Your board members in particular are the ambassadors of your organization’s mission and vision and serve the purpose of propelling you and your organization towards all the success and recognition that it deserves.  It is important to note that the type of volunteering that board members do for your organization will depend on the age and maturity of your organization, your organization’s internal processes, staff size and mutual expectations between the board and your Executive Director.

Of course, all of your volunteers are ambassadors to your organization and this is extremely important to note as we move into the next section.

A Guide to Working With Volunteers

Above all and any guidelines to utilize when considering incorporating volunteers into your organization’s next fundraiser/5K/dinner event/community speaker/forum/roundtable etc, know this above all else: volunteers are not free help.  There is a structure that must be built around your volunteer engagement program(s) to ensure that both your organization and your volunteers are content with the work being done and the relationships being established.

1)    Empower Your Volunteers: HandsOn Network has tons of resources for developing volunteer programs for your organization that ensures consistency in the interaction between organization staff and volunteer community.  Enabling volunteers to do the volunteer work without too much micro-management is best.  An event that is staffed by volunteers needs to be properly planned to the point where volunteers can feel empowered to do what is asked of them independently (of course, there will always be questions and there must be staff available for this purpose).  Additionally, it is always a good idea to identify volunteers that are consistently helpful, independent, focused and committed to the work that is being done through your nonprofit.  These volunteers can be encouraged to take on a leadership role for future events, and might even have insight on how to run volunteer programs for your organization. 

HandsOn Network has a publication for developing volunteer leaders that can be used as an aid in this process of empowering your volunteers. 

2)    Thank Your Volunteers: This is an integral piece of volunteer program coordination at all levels of volunteer management.  Always keep a record of volunteers who worked at your event or who gave their time to your organization in any way.  Thank yous can be as simple as a card or even an e-mail, and can be as extravagant as a gift bag (gift certificates, t-shirts, mugs, etc.) dependent on the event, your budget, and your volunteer population.

Follow these guidelines, and your volunteer community will increase and recruiting and retaining volunteers will become a more simple and directed process that will lead to a broader community understanding of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose.

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Ilana Schuman-Stoler is an employee at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office as a Program Assistant.  Feel free to contact Ilana regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at ilana@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 221

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Last week we read about lifelong donors and the importance of cultivating such a donor base.  This week, we continue the conversation with resident resource specialist, Ann Gladwin about relationships and the secret to building them:

The Story

I had a nice chat with Marshall Howard the other day.  His book “Let’s Have Lunch Together” has been instrumental in my take on fundraising–though Mr. Howard still had to set me straight about the story.   The story is me, not the mission of the organization. That’s hard for most of us to grasp; we want to extol the virtues of our nonprofit’s impact on the community:  Look at the great strides we’re making… the number of people served!  According to Mr. Howard, this ‘story’ might rate a 6 out of 10–what about the remaining 4? 

I started to understand that it’s my relationship to the person I’m asking for support that is crucial.  Do they connect with the mission?  Perhaps, but it’s the fact that I asked them that is important.  And they are responding to me; I can ask a stranger for a donation to my cause, but I’m not likely to get results no matter for what I’m asking.  Ask someone I know for support?  Much more likely. 

Wow – that’s powerful!

Real Life Example

Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to Newark, New Jersey public schools serves as a real life example for this theory.   

Mr. Zuckerberg, 26, who grew up in Westchester County and now lives in California, has no particular connection to Newark. But in July, he and Mr. Booker met at a conference and began a continuing conversation about the mayor’s plans for the city, according to people familiar with their relationship.

From The New York Times

There’s that key word again, relationship.  I would treat it as a synonym for success.  

Get Connected

Another proponent of relationship building is Terry Axelrod, founder of Benevon (and guest writer on our blog last week).  She will present a Get Connected workshop for NEW in Detroit on Wednesday, April 27 (9am-10:30am).  This “Relationship Building for Fundraising” is yours to attend for free.  Sign up today!

Also visit Marshall Howard.com to find a multitude of free resources, including his blog. Get a fresh look at a tried and true method for bringing people into your organization.   

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Ann Gladwin is Resource Specialist for Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office.  Feel free to contact Ann regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at agladwin@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 218.

You can contact Ann with questions on any aspect of nonprofit management.  Call for an appointment to use the Foundation Directory Online at either the Ann Arbor or Detroit office of NEW.

About NEW
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By Diana Kern, Vice President of NEW

My favorite line in the nonprofit world is, “If you’ve seen one nonprofit board, you’ve seen one nonprofit board.”  Having served on many nonprofit boards and working with over 50 boards a year in southeast Michigan I see a lot of variations.  Depending on the mission, the board chair, the revenue situation, the strength of the board’s committees and many other assorted factors, I witness effective and productive boards, unengaged and completely detached boards, and all types in between.

 

Boards that stand out for me are ones that:

  • Have board chairs that create cultures of accountability (meeting attendance, committee work, returning emails, etc.)
  • Have passion for the mission
  • Partner with their top executive and think about ways to relieve pressure from that person
  • Make a meaningful, unrestricted annual donation
  • Are real ambassadors for the services, programs and mission of the nonprofit in their personal spheres of influence
  • Focus on their own productivity, succession and ability to affect mission accomplishment
  • Embrace training and education

What Area Executive Directors Say

In 2009 I engaged in an informal survey of executive directors in southeast Michigan.  I asked them, “Besides fundraising, what is the most important thing you need from your board members today.” Keeping in mind this was at the height of the recession and all of executive directors I spoke to wanted boards that would embrace fundraising, what I heard was really interesting.

 

They ranked their top three needs in the following order:

  • Passion for the mission
  • Be engaged (come to meetings, read your board packet before you come, provide vision)
  • Be an ambassador

 

In some cases I had executive directors tell me in confidence that they work around their boards because they provide no real value to mission.   I also had executive directors that are burned out from having to lead their boards through every step.   Sadly, I had many tell me that many of their board members do not even make a personal annual gift to the nonprofit.

Board’s rank a C+

The BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010, a survey of approximately 1,750 nonprofits from across the country, reported that chief executives give their boards a C+ on overall performance.  I don’t know about you, but if I ever came home with a C+ I would have had to spend evenings and weekends hitting the books!  Where did board members get the most failing grades?   They got poor marks for commitment, engagement and attendance, being ambassadors in the community, engaging in their own self-assessments, recruiting their own peers (building succession for the board) and of course, fundraising.  Interestingly, this national study mirrored my informal responses from southeast Michigan.

[The full report can be downloaded here ]

If you think about it, many of us have professions that require continuing education classes annually so we can continue to be at the top of our games.  However, to be a nonprofit board member you can just move from one board to the next, year after year, with no training.  You might have no idea what it means to be a good board member, what the best practices are today for boards or what the IRS and others are suggesting supports quality governance and transparency yet you could be responsible for oversight of thousands or millions of donor dollars.

 

Board Members Ask Yourself a Question

As a board member myself, I try to focus on how I can add value.   How do I add value to the board and how do I add value to the executive director?  Showing up to a meeting once a month, signing a conflict of interest statement, and writing a $100 check every year is not the behavior of quality board member in my opinion.    I also focus on avoiding micromanaging but I embrace my role as gatekeeper of the mission with the oversight requirements necessary.

 

The BoardSource Index also reported that 70% of nonprofit boards now have term limits.  I am a firm believer in terms limits, but that is a story for an entire other blog on another day.   However, when I join a board and I know that I have six years maximum to provide service I ask my self this question. “When I leave this board in six years can I leave knowing I left the nonprofit and board in a better position than when I got there?”  If I can’t, I think long and hard about accepting the volunteer role.   Being a board member today involves some heavy lifting if you take the role seriously.

 

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Diana Kern is the Vice President at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work.  Diana received the Randolph W. White Memorial Award for Community Service in 2003 for her dedication to ser ving the housing community and she is a certified trainer with the Institute of Real Estate Management.   Feel free to contact Diana regarding any of the advice, tools or services mentioned in this post by email at dkern@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 extension 230

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We Our Tenant Community!

Love at first sight

The NEW Center in Ann Arbor is located just outside of town, on a beautiful stretch of the Huron River. Our office looks out at running paths, train tracks and is proudly perched on the entryway to the city of Ann Arbor from M-14.  Once a junkyard (see pictures below), the land was re-purposed in 1993 and dedicated to the nonprofit sector by the McKinley Foundation.  Originally, the idea was to have a large building serve as an incubator for nonprofits to build their base and funding and to move on from there to other office spaces or buildings in the area.  Nonprofit Enterprise at Work was identified to recruit local nonprofits to try working from the Center in a new office space-meets-community concept.

NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) began to develop a strong dedication to supporting the nonprofits in the building and their daily operations through this unique role.  With a shared kitchen and conference rooms, nonprofits decided to make The NEW Center their permanent home.  NEW’s capacities grew out of this role through the realization that not only is shared space good for resource sharing, but that the resources themselves—tailored computer networks, board development programs, resources for nonprofit management and other general nonprofit consulting services, were of great value to the community, and the NEW staff was excited about the prospect of doing this work with a larger scope.  Additionally, nonprofits enjoyed significant savings on things like utilities and other, sometimes unidentifiable amenities—like Artrain, a tenant since 1993, perched on the railroad track adjacent to our lot!

Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers (MTNCs)

The NEW Center was one of the first Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers, but we are not alone in what we do.  Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers (MTNCs) have been around since 2003, and serve to house multiple organizations and provide healthy, efficient, quality, mission-enhancing workspaces.  There are many shared space nonprofit centers around the country, from California where Tides offers space for nonprofits to “come together, share ideas and work to make their visions real,” to Boston where the The Nonprofit Center in Boston, “supports the needs of its tenants with high-quality on-site property management, building engineering, security, cleaning and recycling services.”  Other shared space centers around the country include Makom Hadash in New York and the Denver Shared Spaces Project and there is even a conference coming up in May, 2011 that features sessions on how to build capacity for such a space!

 

We LOVE Our Tenants

At the NEW Center in Ann Arbor, we currently provide space and support up to twenty organizations and we have a unique relationship with each one.  Our current tenants include:

The NEW Center is a hub for board meetings, trainings and is a technologically equipped office space.  Additionally, The NEW Center provides a hub for a variety of community events like Huron River Watershed Council’s annual River Roundup.  From services right in our backyard to helping our national and global communities, The NEW Center is always popping with people coming and going and we love to be party to and to support such a community.

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Ilana Schuman-Stoler is an employee at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office as a Program Assistant.  Feel free to contact Ilana regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at ilana@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 221

About NEW
NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.

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StrategyLab and Sector Blur

by Neel Hajra

Next week I’ll be among 75 or so participants at the national StrategyLab, sponsored by the Independent Sector, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The group includes executives from every slice of the nonprofit sector, including national service providers, large foundations, major consulting firms, universities, and some local nonprofits such as NEW. The goal of this intense three day session is to “shape the evolution of the nonprofit sector.” Wow! I’ll report back on how it all goes, but in the meantime, it’s a chance to look at some interesting trends in the sector.

I’ll start with sector blur, a controversial trend that became particularly distinct in the 80′s as part of the government devolution movement (and the trend continues in full force today). There was a time when the roles of government, nonprofit, and for-profit worlds were quite distinct – every sector had its place. Obviously that’s less true today than it was in the 50′s: for-profits and nonprofits compete for government contracts, nonprofits adopt social enterprise mindsets that mimic the for-profit sector, government “outsources” some of the social safety net to the nonprofit sector, nonprofits are now nearly as staff-driven as for-profits, there’s movement to legalize hybrid organizations such as L3C’s, and there’s more “cross-over” than ever of talent among the three sectors.

I think we can all agree that the lines between the sectors are increasingly blurry, but the big debate is whether this is a GOOD or BAD thing. One view is that the U.S. needs a strong and independent nonprofit sector to fill the gaps left by the other sectors, avoid mixing social and economic values,  advocate for the disenfranchised, and continue the long tradition of “voluntary organizations” observed by Tocqueville centuries ago. The thinking is that the inter-dependencies among the sector water down the role and impact of the nonprofits sector. The sector loses the “trust” advantage, as well as the grassroots connection to the communities it serves.

The opposing view is that sector blur is simply a question of form, while function is what really matters. In other words, as long as civil society is advancing, who cares whether that’s driven by a blurry sector. Does it matter which sector  delivers our hospital, day care, or welfare-to-work services, as long as it’s high quality? Sectors can (and have) adopted each other’s strategies (e.g., nonprofit social enterprise, for-profit “social mission” organizations). Each sector benefits from the strengths of the other sector, and the winner from all of this is society as a whole. The modest and organic convergence of the sectors results in a stronger social and economic infrastructure for the U.S.A.

There’s validity to both sides. My take is that blur is here to stay, and we should embrace the partial convergence of the sectors so that we can be actively mindful of the rewards and risks. Perhaps in the future we’ll measure organizations not by tax status or mission, but by function or role within society as it relates to other institutions. With that said, despite (and because of!) the market-driven nature of our country, there are certain aspects of the nonprofit sector that will persist no matter how much blur takes place. One is the independent streak that pervades society – there will always be a role for private institutions serving the public good. Another is the trust that emanates from mission: it’s the “killer app” of the nonprofit world. Finally, there’s also the fact that there will always be gaps that remain unfilled by government (because it has to cater to the median voter) and for-profits (because it doesn’t advance the bottom line). The essence of the nonprofit sector is here to stay, so let’s use sector blur as a way to maximize our positive impact on society.

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