In the Business of Changing the World

Fundraising.

The very sight of the word inspires a barrage of unwelcome feelings for nonprofit management leaders. Because they are left in the ugly middle ground between promoting the brand and image of their business to profit it’s cause and suffering the disappointment of unmet goals and unscalable social issues, managers wrestle with disbursing grant money and donations appropriately while avoiding crucifixion at the same time. However, criticizing money and fundraisers only propagates the issue and the vicious cycle of blame shifting, and influence on the situation remains elusive.

As I have spoken with spokespeople of various nonprofits in Jacksonville and those involved with managing their image, the financial setbacks or challenges remain a commonality; staying afloat as a business in a consumer-driven culture not only requires the bills and multi-thousand-dollar checks, but also the enthusiasm of enough volunteers to offer manpower and unique opportunities, perspective, and skill that measures up. Making a real impact beyond simply scratching the surface of climbing social issues should persist as the motivation of a benefactor’s donation; however, the simple-minded, selfish mission of a culture that contends for instant gratification limits the progress and potential of nonprofit visionaries.

In a remarkable TEDtalks, Dan Palotta, talks about his struggles with his own change-driven nonprofit organization and the unconventional ideals he wishes society would adopt; in his presentation, he

“calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.”

In another TEDtalks, Melinda Gates argues that nonprofit charities should behave more like Coca Cola, mirroring their campaigns appealing to trends and “wants” instead of focusing on needs. The presentation summary on TED talks outlines her speech:

“she makes a provocative case for nonprofits taking a cue from corporations such as Coca-Cola, whose plugged-in, global network of marketers and distributors ensures that every remote village wants — and can get — a Coke. Why shouldn’t this work for condoms, sanitation, vaccinations too?”

These provocative ideas merely back up conversations that I’ve had with Travis Trice, Church Mobilizer of World Relief, Hannah Trotter, Yesha’s Special Events Coordinator, and other voices of the nonprofit sector in Jacksonville. The idea of adopting a traditional business plan with the purpose of increasing social good sparks conversations all over, and Joseph Amodeo, the self-proclaimed “Millennial Nonprofiteer,” discusses this idea in his post on Huffington . When young people notice and challenge the old methods of business, especially in the nonprofit world, more social change can occur.

With the existing system, nonprofits can’t afford the attitude that refuses negotiation with disease, poverty, and injustice. Most of the time, blind faith and the backing of a loyal few sustain only the tenuous ability to just barely agitate the monsters of injustice in their own communities. Without a conversion in the current attitude towards fundraising, the likelihood of nonprofits ever ushering a collective force durable enough to compete with mounting issues are meager at most. Sustaining effective change remains an elusive achievement for most nonprofits in light of the bigger picture. However, if through some mental and cultural evolution, we make it to a place where general views demand improved respect and support for the work of these organizations and the hope they provide to the marginalized and underprivileged, charitable nonprofits may reach full capacity in the business of changing the world.
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