Nonprofits - please stop wasting your resources. (Thesis Part IV, Why Nonprofits Need to Change)

For my thesis, I focused largely on volunteer driven community organizations. Partially because that’s where I have a passion, but also because I believe that’s where we have an opportunity to make lasting change, resolve some heavy issues, and set great examples for the rest of the nonprofit world. I’ve had a few conversations in the past week that have been about these very issues - it’s almost as though the *world* is pushing me to BLOG about this again! (har.) A question that came up yesterday:

Why are there so many groups of one or two people out there doing the exact same thing?

We discussed already that volunteers and workers often go to a nonprofit because they support the mission of the organization. Even in the case of volunteers that are forced to do community service hours, there is occasionally some choice involved in where they serve.

However, because of the innately hierarchical structure of most nonprofit organizations, volunteers and workers often are literally disengaged from the mission. This is especially obvious when you have executive directors that are not willing to share responsibility, relinquish power, or do not value the ideas and contributions of their staff and volunteers. So volunteers and staff go elsewhere, stop volunteering, or start their own nonprofit. (Repeating the cycle).

We wind up with a lot of nonprofits led by a lot of “visionaries,” much duplication of services, more competition (for the fewer resources that are available), and a community that still has needs not fully being met.

Have you ever volunteered or worked at an organization where your voice wasn’t heard? If you’re being fairly compensated, sometimes it’s easier to overlook when you’re being overlooked. However, if a person is being paid in hugs and high fives - as is the case with volunteers - sometimes it’s harder to overlook disengagement. Some volunteers are also just so used to that system that they grin and bear it -- they are just happy to help.

We can do so much better for people than that.

It’s also wasting one of the best resources nonprofits have.

I think we need:

  • Nonprofits that rely on and engage the top part of the pyramid less and the bottom part of the pyramid more.
  • Nonprofits that engage their volunteers more than they use them.
  • Nonprofits that network and collaborate, rather than compete.
  • Nonprofits that are flatter, thinner, and as a result of all the above - more sustainable.

Next week, I’ll cut it down to brass tacks and talk about the structure that I believe does just that. Stay tuned.