Seth Godin, September 09
The problem with non
Non as in non-profit.
The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?
Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It’s because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn’t right or good enough for you… there’s an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.
These organizations exist solely to make change. That’s why you joined, isn’t it?
The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.
Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?
Beth has a great post about the feeling of vertigo that non-profits get when they move from the firm ground of the tried and true to the anti-gravity that comes from leaping into change.
Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It’s easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique.
Of course, some folks, like charity: water are stepping into the void and raising millions of dollars as a result. They’re not necessarily a better cause, they’re just more passionate about making change.
A few years ago I met with two (very famous) non-profits to discuss permission marketing and online fundraising and how they might have an impact. Each time, the president of the group was in the room. After about forty five minutes, the meetings devolved into endless lists of why any change at all in the way things were was absolutely impossible. Everyone looked to the president of the group for leadership, and when he didn’t say anything, they dissembled, stalled and evaded. Every barrier was insurmountable, every element of the status quo was cast in stone. The president of the group was (he thought) helpless.
When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there’s that word again) that blew you away?
Please don’t tell me it’s about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don’t have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you’re not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.
If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you’ll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.
The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn’t tell. Because they’re ‘non’ first, change second.
Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.