Monday, February 8, 2010

Tony’s Blog: If your business could pay people 25% less and double productivity…

…you’d be a non-profit.

So why am I constantly hearing from people that non-profits need to be more businesslike? At a dinner recently with three of my closest and most respected advisors I rejected the notion that non-profits need to become more like for-profit businesses and was met with something just short of shock. It has become “conventional wisdom” (almost a cliché) and we in the “social sector” have meekly and humbly acquiesced.

Do we need to become more disciplined in our approach; more strategic; better planners; better at following up? Yes to all of those, but what business doesn’t need to do the same. I was a business consultant before coming over to the non-profit world and I brought a lot of the practices that I offered my corporate customers with me and a strong focus on outcomes. But I would argue that those practices are not specific to the business sector. There are many exceptionally well run non-profit organizations that we can learn from as well. In my experience most businesses are mediocre at best. Why would I want to bring that kind of thinking into my non-profit where my people are producing results that are off the charts? …and talk about loyal customers. Just follow this blog to hear from the hundreds of mentors and mentees whose lives have been changed by their experience with us.

Contrast that to some of the examples of what business has brought us as a society and it becomes even harder to worship at the altar of “business-like”. The problem is that we exist within a culture that has blindly followed a pseudo-libertarian notion that market forces are the answer to everything. Then we end up with Enron, Halliburton, Countrywide, Bernie Madoff, taxpayers bailing out General Motors and extorted by the financial industry to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. One could argue that this is a result of becoming too business-like, where dispassionate calculations about Return On Investment, quarterly profits and shareholder equity have replaced a true sense that business exists to provide value to the lives of human-beings. If you think I’m going too far afield here, note that a couple of years ago an influential donor advised me to cut one of our most successful programs because it wasn’t “running at a profit”, arguing that if it were that good it would have attracted more funding. It’s just not that simple when the people benefitting from your services are not the ones paying for them...and when the benefits are measured in human lives and not bottom line dollars.

Perhaps we should turn the equation around. Maybe corporations need to adopt more of the mindset of the social sector. Maybe the passion and purpose that drive many non-profits could help transform the business-sector so that people are happier, more fulfilled and more productive on the job. I wonder if that were the pervasive mindset if we would see as many abuses spurred by unregulated, “free market” ideology. I wonder if the human suffering that resulted from our economy careening off a cliff might have been prevented.

What do you think?



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection

1 comment:

Judy Friend said...

As a friend (Cristi) once said to me: when you are right, you are right!
And not only are you right, but even Alan Greenspan admitted that he was wrong!