For years, nonprofits and businesses seemed diametrically opposed: Nonprofits “do good,” while businesses “make money.”
People who gravitate to nonprofits are passionate about “a cause,” come from the social sector or have liberal arts’ degrees in sociology or the like, while people who gravitate toward business have MBSs and are more hard-nosed, maybe even “insensitive.”
This stereotype often rears its head in our small rural county, which has more nonprofits per capita than any county in our state.
For the record, I’ve often worried about the disproportionate number of nonprofits in our county because it can create a capital squeeze, with the limited number of donors. Our recession has only exacerbated that.
One example: We support building a bigger, more acoustical arts center in our community and have offered to donate all the proceeds from one issue of our magazine to any approved plan. The offer is here.
I am reminded, however, of all the other pressing projects that could compete with a better arts center: paying for the new CORR building, ongoing improvements at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and so on. It’s a good point.
There’s more at play too.
In our community’s quest to support the nonprofits, sometimes the businesses side of our community winds up being villainized, which is unfair and counterproductive. After all, we are a community — and nation — built on “mom and pops.” We need to support our local, family owned businesses.
To me, being passionate about a “cause” and having a business sense should go hand in hand.
We’ve always supported the nonprofits around here, but, frankly, we also have noticed signs of:
•A lack of transparency and accountability of their finances and decision-making.
•Hiring based on cronyism, not merit.
•Single sourcing, not RFPs, in their business practices.
(You’ll never read about this negative perspective in The Union, because they are on a mission to grow their readership, and nonprofits are a big part of that. The new publisher was not brought on board to ruffle feathers.)
But outside our small world, there’s an interesting shift going on among the nonprofits: A rise of business degrees in nonprofit organizations.
That might seem like heresy to some nonprofit leaders, but as one reader here observed: “In an era of limits, the changing nature of philanthropy … nonprofits are finally getting the message: We are in the business of doing good, but doing good has a bottom line, one that must be consciously managed, measured and reported to be competitive. I think that is a very good thing.”
An article from the Harvard Business Review outlines the trend and the benefits that can come with a more business-like focus in running nonprofits. It is here.
One highlight: “While each individual leader brings his or her unique style of leadership, they share a common thread of applying an entrepreneurial and analytical mindset to field-based expertise to ask new questions and imagine new possibilities.”
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