Playing nice with each other in the non-profit sandbox
Since opening my non-profit consulting practice almost a year ago, the most number of phone calls for assistance relate to starting a new non-profit organization. Just this morning, I saw in LinkedIn’s non-profit discussion group that someone posted a note asking for help with starting a non-profit organization.
Why is it that every time someone has a new idea, they want to start a new non-profit organization to do it?
I find this knee jerk reaction so interesting and confounding. Instead of starting a new organization, it could be “Ah-ha, I have an idea and think I’ll take it to a non-profit organization in my community that does similar things and work with them on starting a new program.”
It has become my standard operating procedure to sit down with these nice, well-intentioned individuals who call me asking for help and beg them to please not start another non-profit organization.
Why? Because every year tons of new non-profit start, and every year tons of other organizations go out of business. It is hard to create, build, and sustain a non-profit organization. Bylaws and incorporation paperwork, board development, staffing, fundraising, donor engagement, program evaluation, outcomes measurement, annual IRS 990 tax filing, and on and on and on.
When I opened my consulting practice, The Healthy Non-Profit, I decided to do business as a LLC. It was a page or two of paperwork, 15 minutes of time, and a small sum of money. Poof! I was a business owner and entrepreneur in no time. I didn’t even have to break a sweat.
I guess all of that time, paperwork and money required to start a non-profit is a result of the preferential tax status Uncle Sam bestows upon you.
The truth of the matter is that the last thing the non-profit sector needs is more struggling non-profit organizations competing for similar resources, which brings me back to my original question.
I suspect part of the problem is that many people want to start a new organization rather than partner and collaborate because existing agencies don’t play nice in the sandbox. Sure, everyone says the right thing about partnering, collaborating, and creating alliances, but our actions say something entirely different.
I don’t think this is malicious behavior. I suspect it is because non-profits are under-resourced and stressed out. The last thing they want to consider is adding a new program and figuring out how to fund it.
Of course, the irony is that this behavior in part contributes to tons of new non-profits being created every year, which places a burden on the sector and adds stress to your under-resourced agency.
I think that non-profits need to learn how to play nice with each other in the sandbox and with others who come with new program ideas.
Has your agency been highly collaborative and entrepreneurial about starting new programs? Please use the comment box to share your story and best practices? Do you disagree with my observations about how little “real” collaboration takes place in the non-profit sector. If so, give it to me by leaving a comment with data illustrating your point.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC