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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

For-profit and nonprofit businesses: are we all the same?

Are nonprofit organizations any different from for-profit businesses?

For years, many professionals have encouraged us to think about nonprofit organizations just like you would a "regular" business.

I agree...to a point.

The easiest delineation between the two business types is that for-profit businesses distribute profits to shareholders, while nonprofit businesses reinvest profits in the mission of the organization. Nonprofit organizations definitely need to understand their "product," follow sound financial and operational practices, and all companies, regardless of classification, need to generate a profit to preserve long-term sustainability and the success of its purpose.

But when the bottom falls out, I expect something different from nonprofit organizations.

Recently, a nonprofit organization that I have been deeply involved with as a volunteer for almost 20 years, made business decisions that I have a hard time understanding. Ten people, several of whom I count as friends, who provided exemplary service and supreme dedication, were let go with less than a day's notice. They received calls in the morning and by the end of the day, they were unemployed.

I'm sure there are facts I don't know. And I'm told that this is the way it is done. This is “normal business practice” nowadays.

I've seen this happen at more than one nonprofit organization, and it makes me angry.

The line between nonprofit and for-profit companies is more blurry every day. With companies like TOMS, Warby Parker, and many others, it's becoming harder to tell which is a for-profit and which is a nonprofit. For many consumers, it doesn't really matter. I get that.

For better or worse, the nonprofit sector has traditionally claimed the high ground of being morally superior to our for-profit brethren. Not only does the mission come first, but we also care for our team. We're more humane. We're collaborative. We're “family.”

Business practices that treat employees as disposable leave us with little to differentiate ourselves from the traditional for-profit sector. So we might as well go to “the other side” and make more money. Or better yet, work for a hybrid corporation like TOMS.

I could be making more money. I probably should be making more money. But instead of becoming an accountant, or something else, I chose fundraising. I chose to work with small nonprofits. I chose to pour my heart, soul, time and money into the philanthropic sector. And increasingly, I am disappointed in business practices of organizations that purport to be the leaders in the sector.

Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America is often quoted in reference to philanthropy. Tocqueville writes this on associations in the US:

"In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together....From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded."

When we come together, when we have shared values as a group, we have the power to change society. We have the power to treat people with dignity. We serve as an example to others of how to work with respect for one another. Things that the charitable sector has historically had at its core.

In an effort to make the nonprofit sector "more like a business," I hope that we have not forgotten that the word “philanthropy” means “love of your fellow man.”

***
This blog first appeared on the GoalBusters Blog and reflects the personal opinions of Alice Ferris. But Jim Anderson probably agrees, since we both wrote the GoalBusters manifesto that outlines our values.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Party's Over! - Conducting Special Event Audits

GoalBusters conducted a FREE "Special Events" critical analysis webinar for nearly 700 Bloomerang registrants. Here is our presentation in SlideShare format.


Here is the complete video presentation as delivered by GoalBusters' Alice Ferris, ACFRE and Jim Anderson, CFRE hosted by Bloomerang.




Everyone likes a good party, but what do you do when you know in your heart that a fundraising event has reached the end of its effective life? Rather than let the party go on, conduct an objective event audit and let the facts help you decide what do to next.

In this practical session, we'll discuss the signs of a failing event, the tools to analyze the event's effective return, ways to soften the blow to volunteers of ending a losing program, and strategies to evaluate new events before they even happen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Resolution Redux: Happy Chinese New Year!

February 8, 2016 marks the beginning of the year of the monkey, and two weeks of celebrations in Chinese communities. And if you've dropped the ball on your 2016 resolutions, here's a chance to revisit them!

Each year, like many people, we begin the year with great intentions of many changes. And by February, the gyms are empty again, the snack food aisle at the grocery store needs restocking, and the vegetables in the crisper drawer really should be thrown out.

So in light of the lunar new year, here's your chance for a do-over, particularly in the context of your fundraising program!

Related Post: Chinese New Year Traditions for Nonprofits

Assess your health. How do you know if your nonprofit is healthy if you never measure it? Check out the Fundraising Effectiveness Project's Fundraising Fitness Test for a comprehensive, but pretty easy, measure of your organization's health.

Pick a BIG goal. This might be for your organization or for your own career development. Maybe it's an idea that this year you will break through a big financial milestone. Or perhaps you want to consider pursuing a credential, such as the CFRE or the ACFRE. Whatever it is, write it down, and then tell someone about it. It's not real until you tell at least one person!

Seek out a new coach or mentor. While you might have a great group of supportive mentors and coaches already, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. At a conference, or online, reach out to someone that you think may have a different perspective, or experience with your big goal. You never know what they might say, if you don't ask!

Pick ONE thing to do differently over the next 30 days. Not 10 days, not 60 days, just 30 days, and only ONE thing. Most change fails because you're trying to do too much at once, like eat different foods, and exercise, and sleep more, etc..  If you want something to stick, you need to stick to one thing. Perhaps you want to make a donor contact every day--not necessarily a solicitation, but a contact. Or you want to get rid of at least one old email every day (that's not asking much, is it?) Just pick ONE thing.

Whatever your goal, whatever your one thing is, we wish you success and prosperity in the new year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!


For a cool 360 view of some of the people at my 2016 Chinese New Year party, check out Jim Anderson's ThetaS 360 post. (Alice)
I love every person in this photo. (I think that's 27 people.) Look around, it's a 360 #theta #phototsphere - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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