In March of this year, I was invited to speak at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting. It was a humbling experience and also an opportunity for me to share (in 6 minutes or less), my thoughts on our nonprofit community. As we close out the year, I wanted to share again my unofficial “Ted Talk” from that evening.
“Tonight, we are here to celebrate our community. And I believe nonprofits are the heartbeat of our community.
These organizations provide food, clothing, and shelter. They are champions for art, history, and our natural resources. Nonprofits are home to hope, healing, compassion, and creativity.
And, a whole lot of grit and determination.
I bet many in the audience are already committed to our nonprofits. You are donors, patrons, and volunteers. You are board members and staff leaders.
I believe –because of you, our nonprofits are perfect just the way you are.
However, I recently read that His Holiness the Dali Llama is credited with saying, “We must remember two things always.
#1 You are perfect just the way you are. And, #2 There is always room for improvement.”
This got me to thinking. How can we improve our nonprofit community? So, I’ve been asking around. And here is what I’ve learned.
We have a villain. We have a dragon to slay.
And the villain in our nonprofit story are the many myths and misunderstandings about the sector.
The dusty old ways of thinking about these organizations that are out of date and untrue.
Tonight, I’ll share 3 myths with you, in hopes of offering a fresh perspective.
Sometimes, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Nonprofits should act more like a business.
Well, nonprofits are already a business. “Nonprofit” is a tax status, not a business model.
These organizations report about $6 trillion in assets according to recent tax returns.
They employ about 10% of our nation’s workforce, and are considered the 3rd largest employer behind retail and manufacturing. And, it is required by law in all 50 states that every single nonprofit is governed by a board of directors and often those board members are business leaders. And let’s not underestimate our nonprofit staff – they are savvy and strategic. They know how to do a whole lot with very little.
Nonprofits are in the business of building better communities.
Let’s respect them as the businesses they already are.
There are too many nonprofits.
Well, this is like saying our heart is too big. Across the country and right here at home, we know the demand for mental health services is at an all time high. Sadly, suicide rates – particularly among our veterans and young people – have hit alarming numbers. The rallying cry for our natural resources is loud and getting louder.
What I’m saying is the supply does not meet the demand.
Many organizations have a waiting list for the services they offer. I’m not sure we have enough nonprofits. What we have are too many organizations that are under-resourced. We have too many that are simply burned out.
And we have tremendous work to do here. But, our heart is not too big.
Kids these days.
We all hit a certain season in life where we look at the generation behind us (and the generation behind them) and we think, “Whew…kids these days.”
But the reality is that Millennials and Gen Z are no longer kids. They are socially, politically, and philanthropically active. And, one in ten say they’d like to start their own nonprofit. Evidence of that is right here in our own back yard, over at UGA’s Nonprofit Management and Leadership program, enrollment has tripled in recent years and the certificate program has seen a 500% increase.
And, in case you haven’t heard:
These generations – along with our nonprofit community – are set to inherit the largest transfer of wealth in the history of time. By some accounts, around $70 Trillion in assets over the next 20 years. This will be a game changer.
Let’s encourage these emerging leaders to see the nonprofit sector as a viable career choice. One with competitive salaries and benefits, a modern work environment, and the technology and infrastructure that is necessary to change the game.
I do believe our nonprofits are perfect – just the way they are.
I also know that there is room for improvement.
Together, we can slay these dragons and debunk these myths.
Together we can reframe and reimagine this work.
And, together we can be better champions for the heartbeat of Athens.”