A few months ago I wrote an article called “The End of Nonprofits”. The post was an acknowledgement of the work and writings of Dan Pallotta. My goal was simply to introduce concepts from his companion books “Uncharitable” and “Charity Case”. I was writing to introduce, not advocate.
In his first book, he traces the origins of nonprofits dating back to the Puritans; Pallotta identifies charity as a remedy for the wealth created in the early history of our nation. I won’t do a book report or take space summarizing the books. They’re hard to find at bookstores but easily accessible on kindle, nook or play books for the e-reader of your choice.
He was laying the groundwork for his notion that our culture believes nonprofits should operate under a set of rules distinct from the for profit arena. The biggies include the suggestion that nonprofits should not invest heavily in infrastructure (a.k.a. The Future). They shouldn’t have the option of spending money - OK, let’s be blunt: donor contributions - on competitive salaries for staff or senior leadership. Finally, they should be operated as shoestring operations; do the most with the least. A perfect example: we're thrilled to get free advertising at 4:00 AM rather than spend to reach audiences when engagement is high.
I’ll put it out there - I agree with his thinking and agree that it needs to change. Hopefully the work he’s doing with his newly launched Charity Defense Council (CDC) will make inroads into this seismic shift in thinking. We can't solve big problems with small-thinking solutions. To learn more about the CDC, go to www.charitydefensecouncil.org. Sign up. March. Get involved.
Beyond spending; however, I believe a significant gap still exists when looking at nonprofits and corporations. The biggest gap is how they operate day to day. Having spent well over a decade (13+ years to date) in the sector, I'm convinced that the charitable sector suffers from another challenge.
Attitude. A lack of a true sales/marketing attitude.
I’ve worked with or for ten charitable organizations - an arguably decent sampling. While all excelled at their mission, nearly all were quite content to be approached, rather than approaching. Naturally, mail went out. Emails were sent. Proposals were sent. Follow up calls were made.
But the heavy lifting of true "assertive" outreach wasn't on the action item check list. None of these excellent organizations had a "bad" or arrogant attitude. However, the thought process was that charitable organizations don't do aggressive things like cold call, prospect, present, gain, commitment and yes, close. I jokingly talked about some of these concepts in another post but the truth is that if you're trying to build a business, this is a big part of the game. And no matter how strong your Board of Directors may be, can you ever have too many high qualify, well-researched prospects?
Much as Pallotta is advocating for change in the way dollars are spent, I advocate for change in the way time is spent. Whether we like it or not, the charitable sector is a competitive one. Organizations compete for donor attention whether they're individuals, corporations or foundations. While posts, Facebook likes and other vehicles pull in attention, the surest way to get it is to grab it. And that's my call. If you're not grabbing for the attention of individual, corporate and institutional donors, one of your peers - or dare I say - competitors is.
Why so serious? Well, when it comes to the sustainability of your organization, mission and work, your efforts make the difference.