Friday, April 3, 2015


Thanks to that new "time hop" feature on Facebook, I saw what I was thinking and writing about six years ago today...

Seems to me that it still applies...

Our lunchtime keynote address at the Feeding America national conference was delivered by Paul C. Light, Professor of Public Service at New York University.  He is the author of several books about the nonprofit and government sectors of our society.

Professor Light noted that nonprofit organizations make up a significant part of our economy in this country, with over 11 million people employed by nonprofits.  Unfortunately, he estimates that in the current economy, as many as 100,000 nonprofits may go under because in a recession, nonprofit organizations are hurt first and recover last.  He sees four possible futures for nonprofit organizations:

  • "Miraculous rescue" -- These are the organizations with magical thinking awaiting the saving donor or contract.  It may happen and they may survive, but there is a good chance they will not.
  • Withering -- These are the organizations that batten down the hatches, but slowly whither away because they are not doing anything new or different, just trying to hold on to the way things were.
  • Winnowing -- While he believes winnowing will happen, he noted that the problem is that it won't be a deliberate winnowing.  The organizations that fail won't necessarily be the worst and the ones that survive won't necessarily be the best.
  • Renewal -- In these times, organizations that make an aggressive recommitment to their missions may well renew and blossom.
These times present an opportunity to nonprofits, but we are often so down on ourselves that we don't talk about it!

In talking about nonprofit leaders as social entrepreneurs, Professor Light asked us why nonprofits so often have poor equipment -- old computers, poor work spaces, and so on.  He said that he thinks that demeans the best workforce in America and we need to honor the talent, passion, and commitment of the people who work in nonprofits by giving them the tools to do their jobs.

I agree 100%!  I have never been willing to accept the common axiom of "good enough for nonprofit work" -- not in the people we hire nor in the tools we give them to get their jobs done.  We have some of the best and brightest, most passionate and hard-working people anywhere!  I need to do my best as their leader to get them the tools to do their jobs in the best and most efficient ways possible.

He also talked about what it really means to be "nonprofit-like."  Sadly, surveys show that the American public has been losing its faith in nonprofits.  "Nonprofit-like" might have a negative connotation for many.

Professor light described "nonprofit-like" as having five traits:

  • Laser-like focus on the mission of the organization
  • Value added -- the work nonprofits do adds value to each dollar donated
  • Innovative and entrepreneurial
  • Capacity to succeed -- investing in the infrastructure to allow the organization to do its work efficiently and effectively
  • Pride -- non profit organizations should be proud of all they accomplish
He closed his powerful remarks by talking about our power and strength in the world of nonprofits being our faith.  Not religious faith, but faith in the work we do, a belief that we are part of something bigger.  We do have faith in miracles, but we don't expect those miracles to come from the government or a donor, we know that the only place to find miracles is within ourselves.

I could not have said it better, and what a way to close out this conference!


If you have interest and time (35 minutes), here's a video of the presentation: