Recently, I have been giving speeches and keynote addresses to nonprofit groups in support of my most recent book. I’ve also been having many discussions and exchanges with individuals inside and outside of the industry. It has provided me with opportunities to debate and discuss the changes going on in the social sector.
And this past weekend, I came across an article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) entitled, “Are Nonprofits Getting in the Way of Social Change?” I thought to myself, that nonprofits have got to understand that there is tremendous change happening. They need to be part of the solution or get out of the way. The time has come for them to understand, as I stated in my book and as was written in the article, that we have the resources to make significant headway in many of life’s greatest challenges. They now need to start thinking about going out of business.
In the SSIR article, David Wertheimer, deputy director for the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said, “One of the reasons that I left being a nonprofit executive director was that I realized that I was constantly putting the needs of my organization above the interests and the needs of the clients we were serving.”
If you work in the nonprofit sector, I challenge you to ask yourself if this has ever happened to you? Have you ever experienced the survival or preservation of the organization being of greater interest–even subtly–than finding the ultimate solution to the societal challenge your organization addresses?
Day after day, we have countless organizations operating as if it is really their mission to stay on the job in perpetuity. This breeds complacency. As more and more funders understand and realize that we are living at a time when advances in technology coupled with the resources of society, for example, can now provide systemic change, we have organizations that continue to have their heads buried in the sand.
Many nonprofits continue to compete and seek money, but do not want to be fully transparent or accountable in terms of their impact and results. They don’t hold the view that they should exist only to close their doors within a certain number of years, when they have provided the solution. As funders are looking for innovation, risk–and partnerships–many nonprofits can only see how to make sure they stay operational.
Here’s the truth: society does not want you to be operational in perpetuity!
Is there a way that we can eradicate cancer? We don’t want countless more nonprofits dealing with research or support for families experiencing this dreaded disease. What we actually want is for cancer to be completely vanquished. We want these organizations to disappear and to have millions of our friends and family live full and healthy lives instead of suffer and die. That’s what society wants.
Society does not want children to experience educational inequality that will doom them to a life on the margins of society. Funders and society want programs that instead are producing results so that all children in underserved schools can succeed and go on to become productive members of society.
Today, we have the resources and the wherewithal to make these things happen. Don’t think for a moment that we don’t.
Nonprofits are no longer the only answer, and increasingly corporations and others are getting involved in the social sector. They are looking to partner to find solutions, even if this ultimately means the end of some nonprofits. That’s as it should be.
Nonprofits need to look at the landscape that exists today, instead of the one that existed even five years ago. There is no stopping the technology genie. That coupled with shifts in thinking and immense amount of money have opened an opportunity that may not have really existed in this way ever in our history.
If I were a CEO at a nonprofit today, I would take pause and reflect on what’s happening today. I would then do the three following things:
- I would make it a point to state that we are looking for our organization’s end. I would say it everywhere and I would lead my team to internalize that message.
- I would reward creativity, innovation and risk. I would look for the smartest thinkers who do not believe in limits.
- I would look at who else is doing what we’re doing or supporting what we do and I would look to partner. I would tell them that one of our primary goals was to drive us out of business and we need partners who can help us do that.
Then I would get to work at closing our doors as fast as we possible could–permanently.
© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.