Real responses to real-life questionsKathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO is joined by nonprofit consultant and outcomes expert Bob Penna, for the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
How can I convince for profit business leaders that we have a well-run organization that makes a critical difference in our community?
It seems to me that the bottom line (profitability) is all that businesses care about. For all of us who work in nonprofits, the bottom line is less important than mission-based service delivery.
I have a Ph.D., but I am aware that a portion of our business community assumes that nonprofit execs are nothing but do-gooders that bumble along, barely running our organizations in a non-businesslike manner.
I must constantly fundraise and I know money makes our work possible. But I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen because I will put up with working harder and making a lower salary than comparably educated for-profit professionals. Money isn’t everything to me. Working for social good is.
I just don’t trust that for-profit businesses really understand me or my mission-focused nonprofit
Bob says ...
It is unclear from what you wrote whether your complaint is that your business community will not/does not support local nonprofit efforts, or that you don’t get the respect you feel you deserve.
Moreover, just as you accuse local business leaders of having a faulty one-dimensional view of nonprofits (do-gooders, bumbling along, barely running our organizations) you displayed virtually the same kind of stereotype when you wrote that “the bottom line (profitability) is all that businesses care about.” You also seem to be lumping all businesses (large and small, private and corporate, locally owned vs. the branch of a national chain) into one indicted heap, further displaying what one might call a biased perspective.
While there are some predatory businesses out there, most for-profit enterprises do, in fact, care about their communities. This is especially true of smaller, private and locally owned concerns. If you want to build relationships with these people, I would suggest that you stop treating them as a monolithic enemy, get to know something of their concerns for the community and develop a message that will appeal to their interests. For example, you might point out how your organization strengthens the community overall.
If your complaint is actually about little more than how you and your Ph.D. are treated, I’d suggest that you remember that respect is earned. Get over it and focus on something more important.
Kathryn says ...
I acknowledge that there are business professionals who know very little about the nonprofit sector and your priority of mission delivery. I also have experienced the attitude from bottom-line thinkers that as “do-gooders” we care less about efficiency than we do about our cause.
You, as a professional dedicated to social good, are indeed a good-hearted person. If you encounter an assumption that you are a poor manager because you have dedicated your life to nonprofit causes, I think it is up to you, and to all of us, to challenge these perceptions and educate people on this subject.
Professionals trained in for-profit business management are used to looking to data, facts and figures. One of the drivers of nonprofit performance management and the focus on outcomes-based service delivery systems is to provide that information, and education, to the corporate sector and other constituents.
Well-managed charities collect and report on the quantifiable impact of their nonprofit’s work. This fact-based information is critical to helping the for-profit sector understand the importance and relevance of your work.
I personally believe with this increasing nonprofit focus on performance, the corporate world now knows more about how nonprofits work and their profound influence on our society. Let’s keep up the good work of providing both qualitative story-telling and facts that show our impact.
Now, your take!
Ruth T-C says ... The way to establish your nonprofit organization in the eyes of the business community is two-fold: ramp up your PR game and create partnerships. You should manage regular flow of newsworthy information through press releases, events, blogging or guest-blogging, newsletters, or social media activity, to let the community and the business sector know more about your organization. You could also cultivate a good relationship with at least one person at every newspaper and broadcast outlet in your town.
If you don't have staff who are responsible for such activities, then consider using a freelancer (hello!) to fill in the gaps. You also should also develop local business partnerships to serve your clients and help offset some of your costs. You gain respect and support by demonstrating and publicizing your organization's successes and commitment. Neither businesses nor the general public care about a nonprofit executive's PhD; they care about its mission and how it helps people.