Corporations: here’s what nonprofits really need

It turns out I’m not the only one who mocks the business community when they decide to “save” the nonprofit community: Kelly Kleiman does too! She goes after some of Silicon Valley’s business elite (the latest is the the “Palindrome Advisors group”) who are planning “to disrupt the nonprofit space”  with their business genius. And she could not be funnier – or more accurate – in her blog! As she states so well, the breathless accounts of these business efforts “ignore the fact that what nonprofits need isn’t more advice, it’s more money. When business people are ready to provide that—when they’re ready to serve on boards, not as agents of disruption but as securers of resources, and when they’re ready to advocate for a tax system that will underwrite the necessary work done by the voluntary sector—well, that will be news.”

Over the last 20 years, I have seen so many of these business movements come and go. I’ve sat in audiences of nonprofit conferences while the featured speakers – business leaders, often paid to give us their wisdom while the nonprofit trainers are expected to volunteer their training time – tell nonprofits, with great contempt, all that they are doing wrong and how they need to act more like businesses. Nevermind that, a year or two later, their businesses have gone under with the bursting of the latest tech bubbles, while all the nonprofits they scorned are still around.

Yes, we need businesses to partner with nonprofits. But how about this:

  • Businesses sit down with nonprofits and LISTEN to what they need.
  • Volunteer not just on an advisory board but on the front lines, for several weeks: go through the volunteer orientation and get some time with the clients served by the nonprofit.
  • Sit in on some staff and volunteer meetings, and listen, don’t talk, a few times.

Learn about nonprofits first. Then talk.

I still dream of nonprofits waking up and marching into the corporate world and saying, “You need to do things differently. Let us help. Let us disrupt your for-profit space. Let us show you what it’s like to be driven by a mission rather than your profit. Let us show you how to do so much with so little resources. Let us show you what it’s like to use old computers to try to access your fancy tech tools, because you refuse to fund our ‘administrative costs.’ Let us show you how to balance the whims of donors with the very real needs of our clients. You could learn so much from us!”

Also see:

(note: most of these URLs no longer work, as my former blog host is now defunct and got rid of their archives for some reason)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *