Missing the mark: why business-mindedness cannot solve the problems of the non-profit sector

To think of all non-profits as comprising a homogenized “non-profit sector” obscures the realities of running any non-profit organization to the point of irrelevance. The term “non-profit” encompasses several subsectors which face drastically different challenges.

To talk about “business” is equally pointless. We tend to talk about the software industry, or automobile industry. When we talk about “business” in general, all that ties these organizations together is an interest in earning profit, nothing else. Similarly, the non-profit sector is a group of organizations that do not seek profit.

I am in the social service sector, as are most of you reading this post. Our knowledge of the non-profit sector is secondary to our expertise in social services, which is markedly different than the experience and expertise of those who work for museums, for example. In fact, we social service “nonprofits” have more in common with our government social service counterparts than non social service non-profits.

Those who advocate a “business-minded” approach to the problems of the non-profit sector have, so far, missed the mark in their solutions because all those non-profits that make up the “non-profit” sector have less in common with one another than those outside our sector acknowledge.

Wall Street bankers really messed up the U.S. economy. Why aren’t we talking about fixing “businesses”? The reason we aren’t talking about fixing businesses is because “business” is not broken, banking is.

A local florist has little to do with AIG. Treating the two as the same would produce useless advice. Yet it is that un-nuanced, generalized nonsense we are getting from those proponents of so-called “business mindedness.” Not coincidently, those who seek a “cure” to the woes of our sector by-and-large focus on fundraising, an important issue, but not the bottom line of any sub-sector.

In our sector, the bottom line is social outcomes. Alleviating human suffering be it poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, or other serious ailments. It is simply ludicrous reading the answers on high of so called “business experts” on how to fix our sector, when, in fact, they know nothing about social services.

No one has asked me how to solve the American banking crisis. No one should. My answers would suck. My answers would suck because expertise matters. Having core competence in whatever issues an organization addresses, profit-seeking or not, is critical to success. My guess is any business minded person would be able to tell you that, were they talking about business.

Originally posted on inforumusa.org