Sunday, August 22, 2004

Cool things from the Alliance for Nonprofit management Conference Part 1

Back a couple weeks ago I attended the Alliance for Nonprofit Management Annual Conference in DC (Official disclaimer--I'm Vice President of the board of the Alliance so my evaluation of the conference may not be "totally" unbiased). It was a great conference with some great ideas that I jotted down. Over the next couple weeks, I'll be adding them to this blog:

Thursday night Keynote--Wendy Puriefoy, Public Education Network
(Some thoughts sparked by Wendy's comments--some ideas directly from her talk:)

First: The nonprofit sector is important to our society--
  • The nonprofit economy in the US, if it were a country, would be the seventh largest economy in the world. (And this doesn't count the nongovernmental organization/charity/civil society sector* in the rest of the world.
  • Astronomers are now theorizing that invisible "dark matter" holds the universe together. The nonprofit sector is the dark matter that holds our society together--and we are largely invisible.

Second: We need to have a place at the table--

  • While we are larger than the the seventh largest county in terms of the size of the economy, we don't have a place at the table.
  • In gaining that place at the table, we have to be careful. We have to keep asking if we are there to have a positive impact on our communities or are we there because we like having the influence and exposure?

Third: We have to guard our unique nonprofit culture--

  • We have to guard our humanity; Nonprofits are about people.
  • We have to guard our soul; Nonprofits can not lose site of their mission.
  • We can not lose our sense of outrage.

There has been a lot of talk recently about nonprofits having to improve their efficiency; about nonprofits having a customer focus; about nonprofits running more like a for-profit business. I agree with all of this. In fact, I find it hard to understand how nonprofits can operate with such poor systems for tracking clients, outcomes and projects.

BUT, we can not forget that nonprofits are about serving people. Being more like a business is good but we can not forget why many of our employees are working in nonprofits--it is not because of the high pay--it is about making a difference in their communities. I've seen nonprofits drive the business and customer language so far that they forget about what motivates their employees. They also seem to forget that even if their employees were motivated by money, big pay checks, stock options and big bonuses are not an option in nonprofit organizations.


*There's an issue of what do we call ourselves. We are called different things in different parts of the world ("Charity" in Canada, Civil Society in some of Western Europe, NGO in the UN and a number of international organizations). But nonprofit and nongovernmental organization both define us by what we are not. We need a better term.


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