One of the perks of my work is having regular conversations with nonprofit leaders. After speaking or training at a conference, I often grab a meal with a dozen or more attendees who want to pick my brain. Once the group tires of my babbling, I get the opportunity to ask them questions. It’s a great time to find out how day-to-day leaders feel about some of the things I ponder regularly. Most leaders represent small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations—a large segment of the nonprofit sector.
Lately, I’ve been asking people what they think of when they hear the words “social impact,” “social innovation,” “social capital,” and “social entrepreneurship”. Of the four dozen or so people I’ve talked to, a very small percentage are comfortable using these terms, a larger number have heard these words in their day-to-day work but are not generally confident about their meaning, and the majority are unfamiliar with the terms entirely. The most interesting comment came from a nonprofit executive who had been running a mid-sized human services organization in the South for nearly twenty-five years. To paraphrase: “I am hearing that language more and more, but no one can tell me exactly what those words mean. It seems like they are used by an elite group in the sector, essentially a club of cool kids.” As she said this, many others around the table nodded their heads emphatically.
I thought about her words and my own involvement in the “social blank” movements, I began to understand her point. Most of the gatherings, discussions, and information about the “social blank” movements include only a fraction of the people working in the nonprofit sector, and they are often the same people from the same organizations. At conferences or gatherings outside of these “social blank” worlds—say, a national federal grantee conference or national association of “XYZ” gathering—discussions are much different. There is little or no connection to these terms or to the movements they help identify. Even more disappointing is that the majority of small and mid-sized nonprofits are not positioned to benefit from the great work, ideas, and energy associated with them.
The natural question that emerges is: How does the nonprofit sector introduce these useful terms and the great and growing work of the “social blank” movements to people outside the Cool Kid Club? How do we open the “social blank” movements to all, and help leaders use the language and the work to significantly advance their important missions?
Read more stories by John Brothers.