Nonprofits & NGOs

Should Nonprofits Act Like Businesses or People?

Community-focused approaches disrupting the nonprofit sector.

The new book I co-authored with Allyson Kapin, Social Change Anytime Everywhere, looks at the way nonprofit organizations can use multichannel strategies for advocacy, fundraising, and community building. It’s a practitioner’s guide for planning, implementing, and evaluating strategies that engage constituents across many channels, wherever they may be, and how we as organizations need to structure our work to deliver that experience.

The conclusion of the book is titled “Disrupting the Nonprofit Sector,” and a question that came up in a recent podcast I recorded kept me thinking all week: Why do I think multichannel strategies will actually disrupt the nonprofit sector?

To successfully use multichannel strategies, we need to stop thinking about how we can operate more like businesses, and instead focus on acting more like our constituents. That may sound strange, but let me explain:

Consultants and others often advise nonprofits to focus on business objectives such as streamlining departments, minimizing overhead, and creating a results-focused organization. While those objectives have merit, they are not directly aligned with creating the best constituent experience. Ultimately, if you cannot build a community because engaging with your organization is so difficult, outdated, or cumbersome, you will not have people to support your advocacy, donate to your fundraising efforts, or champion your mission. And to ensure that you do have a strong community of supporters, you need to make supporting your mission fun, valuable, and easy.

What’s more, thinking more like your constituents isn't difficult. Try this: Stop working for just five minutes. Imagine that you are you, enjoying some personal, non-professional time, then go online. What do you do? Which tools do you use? For example, maybe you notice that you check your email and then go to Facebook. From there, you may click on a news article that a friend posted and then tweet it out using the embedded sharing options. In as little as 30 seconds, you just visited four different platforms, engaged with potentially hundreds of people, and didn't stop once to think about what you were doing. That's how your supporters are interacting (or not interacting) with your organization, other nonprofits, their friends, and their family every day.

Multichannel strategies are your keys to creating campaigns, content, and calls to action that meet your supporters where they are and encourage them to support your organization. Social Change Anytime Everywhere is focused on the way constituents interact with each other and organizations, identifying the opportunities for your organization to not just broadcast a call to action, but also create meaningful ways for your activists to take action, your donors to donate, and your community members to share your message on the platforms they prefer.

Listen to this podcast featuring Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward discussing why charities should use more kinds of social media.

Read an excerpt from Social Change Anytime Everywhere.

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  • BY Judith Bayliss

    ON April 10, 2013 12:06 PM

    This is a particularly relevant piece to the organization I am with - PEI Council of People with Disabilities (Province of Canada). We are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in our approach to fundraising and as yet we have a Board of Directors to convince that the change will help us solidify our financial situation. Like numerous NGOs in canada, we are constantly worried about whether we can sustain our operation. Thousands of people rely on us for the programs we deliver and that no-one else can provide.
    So your pragmatic - eminently sensible- approach is ideal for the times we are in.
    Thank you

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    ON April 11, 2013 12:52 AM

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  • BY Mozart Guerrier

    ON April 11, 2013 10:37 AM

    Nonprofits should aim for excellence, not a particular sector style. See Jim Collins great monograph on this via Good to Great.

  • BY Vavani Sarmah

    ON April 19, 2013 03:09 PM

    Non-Profit should work like a business but for a cause. Profits whether tangible or intangible should help re-focusing more toward those cause(s)

  • BY Ruby Maddox

    ON May 7, 2013 12:31 PM

    Thinking like a business is particularly tricky for community-based organizations since many of their primary activities, center on accountability and legitimacy not just efficiency. Where a tenet of mission-based management is to adopt this business ideology, considering a “people-based management” approach places a higher emphasis on prioritizing the constituent agenda, relationship building, and networking.

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    To the next! Cheers!!

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