[MCON 2015] The Problem With Nonprofits ‘Non-Yesterday’

There is a problem with nonprofits today.

Or as Eric Weinheimer might say, there is a problem with nonprofits “non-yesterday, non-tomorrow.” (a.k.a. today)

Could something as simple as the title of our sector be crippling industry growth? As Weinheimer, the CEO of Donors Forum, explained, the term nonprofit is “inaccurate, it’s not who we are. It’s offensive.” During our post-MCON conversation, we joked about how 1950 called and wants its title back.

The label is unfair because the nonprofit sector is the only industry defined by what it isn’t, Weinheimer said. You could say that it’s “non-helpful” to our line of “non-play.” (I’m going to tread carefully here because I work for a little something called Nonprofit Hub.) Instead, Weinheimer suggests there are a number of better options for the name: mission driven, purpose driven or social impact. Anything but nonprofit sector. Why is it that the name of our sector is the name of our tax standing?

The title isn’t the only problem with nonprofits though. Weinheimer’s main issue is the quality of board of directors. Board members have a lot of responsibility because they hold a difficult position.

“Board members are keepers of the mission, not keepers of the organization,” Weinheimer said.

Board members are critical to hiring leadership, expanding networks and strategic thinking for enhancing the mission. Organizations need to enhance board training, support the work of the the board as well as set the right expectations and make sure the board understands them.

Weinheimer offered some interesting advice when I asked him what he would tell someone who wants to start a nonprofit

“Don’t.”

He said the market is already saturated and government funding is limited. Many wonderful organizations already exist with similar or complementary missions. Nonprofit Hub supports the founding of new organizations after careful research and consideration. A nonprofit organization is a business which needs a game plan before you can move forward.

Weinheimer’s disclaimer was to make sure your vision is different than any other organization before you take advantage of the low barrier to entry. It may be better to partner with an existing organization or start a business that has an emphasis on social impact.

To be clear, the work nonprofit organizations do must be done under the nonprofit structure because typically the business model simply isn’t sustainable with the way nonprofits work. It just comes down to strengthening current missions rather than creating new ones.

Weinheimer explained that the times are uncertain, which causes us to think differently. We have to be resourceful and innovative like we’ve never been. We need to focus on critical work. With all that said, he’s is still hopeful for the future of the nonprofit sector—regardless of what it may be called in the future.

“Our work is too important, we must succeed,” he said.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our MCON coverage: