Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Nonprofit Sector: Can You Fix It?

If you are a leader of a local chapter of a national non-profit organization, you may often feel that your hands are tied. It could be that the chapters are responsible for doing the grunt work (fundraising, recruiting new members, awareness, providing member services), but have very little influence when it comes to the direction in which the organization, as a whole, is headed. Answer these questions.

Does your chapter raise all of its own money? Do you solely provide services to your membership? Do you write, produce and distribute your own newsletters, pamphlets and brochures? Do you pay dues in as much as 25% to a national office staffed by people you've never met? Are you ever asked for input in shaping the organization's policies; or are decisions made, announced and then explained away? Can you name at least five important research projects funded in the past two years where results will have significant lasting effects? Can you name any? When you have questions, do you get real or scripted answers? Furthermore, do you know the salaries of all employees at the national level?

As part of a complicated and often overlooked sector, non-profits can shape themselves in many ways that would never be allowed in the business sector. This is the reason, in part, why there is an issue in the non-profit sector of having too many organizations providing the same services - otherwise known as "duplication of services". Too much money is being thrown away that could otherwise make a difference. It's time to realize that independent chapters are ineffective.

There is a movement in the non-profit sector to come together, work together and bridge the resource divide between all non-profits. Sharing resources and information that have historically been territorial in nature among non-profits is now a good idea. But, this has to start from within. Reach across state lines to your sister chapters. Use part of your chapter's funds, if you can, to take a trip to the national office. Sit down with them to discuss your opinions, not theirs. Be firm on this! Bring the whole chapter board if you need to. Remember, you aren't there to hear their compliments and/or what was already stated in the memos. If you want answers, you are entitled to them. You were the one who drove 30 miles to deliver a home-cooked meal. It was one of your board members who washed 400 cars on a hot sunny summer afternoon. It was a member from your chapter who ran 12 miles with your t-shirt on, when, just last year, she couldn't walk up a flight of steps.

You have a lot to be proud of! The spirit that brought you into this field is what is going to fix the problems we face in the years ahead. The need for charitable services is only going to increase while available funds decrease. We need a new plan, a new model. You've heard the term, "why fix what ain't broken". I'm asking, "why haven't we already fixed what is broken?" We don't have the time or money to reorganize and reallocate and restructure. Just start now! Demand interactive communication. Ask to sit in on every national board meeting. Introduce web meetings or teleconferencing. Come up with a communication strategy. Gather together your peers and approach the national level with a unified request to include you and other chapter leaders. Offer to chair a committee on enhanced chapter communications, social media integration, research policy review or non-profit networking. At the very least, know the direction in which each and every penny from your chapter goes. How much of it goes toward salaries, how much toward research, how much toward admin, and how much toward legal fees? The organization isn't a dog and you are the furthest thing from a wagging tail. You hold as much weight, as much importance, as the person who's currently getting all the credit.

Finally, create some fancy spreadsheets and bar graphs and communicate it to your members. Most importantly, don't abandon your organization to go it alone until you have tried to fix what is broken. People need you. Your organization needs you. This sector needs a few handymen and handywomen. Can you fix it?

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