No matter where I go or who I talk to about philanthropy, I very rarely (if ever) hear concern for the improvement of philanthropic approaches. The bottom line – nonprofits just don't believe they should pay as much attention to the practice of philanthropy as they should to the execution of their programs. In recent years, the Gates Foundation has ramped up its own philanthropy program, but most large foundations do not seem to believe that funding the investigation and development of the philanthropic field is their responsibility either. I believe that every single nonprofit should be involved in the constant refinement of philanthropic approaches, because if we do not take responsibility for the improvement of our own sector, who will?
Nonprofits have been operating for decades in a vacuum. How can any nonprofit be expected to improve without networking, development & the investigation of new approaches and ideas? It has only been in the last 20 years that a professional association for nonprofits, the National Council of Nonprofits, was even started. And today only 32 states have a nonprofit association, and the states that do have associations have very small membership numbers compared to the total number of operating nonprofit organizations.
Not only does this lack of a strong network substantially stunt our growth and impact as a sector, but it leaves the oversight and standard setting of the nonprofit sector to the government sector. And without organized advocacy by nonprofits, for nonprofits, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and I just plan to do what I want to do.Maybe it’s more confidence. Maybe it’s just more wisdom. No matter the reason, I feel it’s been long overdue to kick the time-worn “nonprofit template” to the curb. As a long-time nonprofit executive, with more than 16+ years leading various nonprofit organizations, and an avid "learner" of all things related to nonprofits, I have spent a substantial part of my life researching and educating myself in an effort to “understand” the nonprofit sector better. I have studied to “improve” myself as a nonprofit executive, "increase" the reach and impact of my nonprofit organization, and“tweak” the overall effectiveness of nonprofits in my community. Finally, I stepped back and realized it wasn’t ME. It wasn’t MY organization. It wasn’t MY community. I realized that the nonprofit system in America is BROKEN!
The sad part is that most people haven't noticed the low efficiency, or slow social change. Probably because they either 1) don't hold the nonprofit sector to the same standards as the private/corporate sector or government sector (nothing to be proud of as a nonprofit professional); or 2) don’t realize the enormous capital at our disposal. (And not just financial capital, although it is substantial; but human capital as well. What other sector has access to SO much human capital?) We as a sector are NOT living up to our potential, and something has got to be done.
Many people and organizations have been working for many years on this issue, many people much smarter than me. My plan is to continue to educate myself about the issues affecting nonprofit impact, and learn as much as I can from the people and organizations who are already working to make changes. Many call this movement for change "Venture Philanthropy", "Social Entrepreneurship", "New Nonprofits"… but whatever you want to call it, it is a call to action. A call for change.
In my blog I will be exploring these issues, the thoughts of many insightful people, and the new programs developed in an effort to start changing the nonprofit sector. I welcome your input, either as another nonprofit professional, a donor, an educator or simply a caring person. And I hope that through education, idea sharing and communication we can continue making changes (or in some cases just start making changes) in our communities, while seeking larger change for our sector. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. So I look forward to this hard road of exploration and change ahead, with the goal of giving back more in the future with a more cohesive and efficient nonprofit sector.