I recently heard a consultant whose clients are an impressive list of non-profits focused on history and preservation remark that non-profits can’t be “killed off.” Even those which seem to be limping along financially or whose mission is not cutting edge among today’s charitable causes, seem to survive. Similarly, he pointed out, that achieving collaborative economies or truly sharing missions isn’t part of the non-profit culture. Restaurants come and go, telecommunications giants, financial institutions, and airlines disappear or morph into some other entity but non-profits are generally stubbornly independent and territorial. Only a few hours later, I talked with the director of a local historical society, and she mentioned that her organization is considering how it can be more collaborative with another very successful non-profit which, years ago, was spun off from her older organization. Those two conversations really made think.
Are we entering an era when, of necessity, we will have to look more closely at efficiencies and real partnering too achieve common goals? I think this may be the case. For no other reason, the non-profit sector continues to grow in our state, even though we have been feeling the effects of an economic downturn for four years now. Are people willing, generous though they may be, to provide healthy financial underpinnings for these approximately 30,000 organizations? Those of us who rely on donors –and most do to some degree –owe them a self-examination of our goals and practices to make sure we are using our resources as carefully as possible.
Those of us in the non-profit arena would have to be cave-dwellers not to have heard the new verb “to partner” or its adjectival relative, “partnering.” I am as guilty as anyone at using those words without really defining them. Sharing a mailing list, or joining in sponsoring an event are a start, but I think we may have to delve deeper into cost- and mission- effective ways to accomplish our goals. The luxury of each non-profit occupying its own silo is no longer realistic. This may be especially true for the many small non-profits for which hope of significant growth and sustainability may not be realistic. What do you think?