Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sustainable Nonprofits that Suck

There is a bunch of conversation on whether sustainability=earned income, how far you can push the nonprofits should be like businesses thing here and here.

Well I'd like to point out there are a bunch of sustainable nonprofits that suck. Let me define my terms. Sustainable nonprofits have enough cash income to fund their ongoing operations... that could be from an endowment, from a good development director, from a sustainable pool of individual donors, from earned income, whatever. Sucking is defined as not accomplishing measurable goals.

My version of suck (measurable goals) is, I think, the axis on which the whole nonprofit vs. for-profit thinking debate should take place. In business, you have a quick, measurable built in goal: profitability. Why can a CEO of a packaged foods company move over to and Internet media firm? The P&L is the same... the same basic measurements are in place.

It is a lot harder for the CEO of a symphony to switch over to being the CEO of a homeless shelter.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review has a good article. One quote struck me:
“The lack of having a bottom line is truly under appreciated,” explains Schlosberg, “as is its importance in enabling an organization to have focus and come together. It becomes much more of a challenge to evaluate not only the organization, but individuals and their performance as well.”

1 comment:

Seattle Non Profit Professional said...

I think you make some really good observations here. I work in the non profit world in Seattle, Washington. The largest weaknesses I have observed in a general resistance to integrating current efforts with proper technologies that would increase the efficiency and effective application of available, and restricted, financial and human resources. The method that most aplty describes what I have observed is what could be referred to as a 'seat of your pants' approach, that responds to crisis as they surface and fails to proactively plan for issues in an effective and thus sophisticated manner. Training is largely inappropriate for the work, and the candidates recruited are often ill prepared for the responsiblities faced. Metrics and data to better grasp the situation is avoided so that, and as a consequence, transparency is unavailable. Damage control, as a post hoc methodology, is emphasized over proactive strategic planing that is based on an honest and courageous evaluation of the challenges faced. As a result, the processes, policies, systems, and structures in place that are supposed to be supporting employee efforts, in teh pursuit of service quality, are inadequate and derailing.