Saturday, October 28, 2006

NONPROFIT CONFIDENCE PROBLEM?

Nonprofit Confidence Problem: Kim Klein Names the Shadow Side of Nonprofits
by pam ashlund


What's in a name? Nonprofits struggle with this. Marketing professionals everywhere espouse different theories. Myself? There was nothing so powerful as Nike's "swoosh" or it's "Just Do It" mantra. I don't wear Nike's, I don't buy Nike's, but I know that symbol is called a "swoosh" and when I need something done pronto I'm known to say "just do it!". And this wasn't a passing thing either. In the early 90's I was known as the "Nike-boss" for my overuse of the slogan. That was not necessarily a good thing, but sure says something about branding.

Last week, at the 2006 CAN Conference, I had the pleasure of hearing the keynote speaker: Kim Klein.

Although Kim is known as the leader in grassroots fundraising, this was not the focus of her talk...or if it was, I must have missed the point. She spoke on trust and accountability. Ideas very close to my heart. Maybe not her usual topic, BUT, it was such an incredible shot in the arm. The way she communicated, somehow grounded AND enthusiastic at the same time, had a profound effect on me (and I hate that word, profound...to give you an idea of how serious I am.

What she said was (and I'm afraid I have to paraphrase here) that non-profits have a confidence problem, somehow knowing what is right and what needs to be done, but undermined by what she called (and this has to be a reference to Jung), "the shadow side" of our sector.

We want, she said, "to regain the public trust" (which is down from 75% to 25%).

One shadow lies with the concept of "Professionalism" and the idea of "Best Practices" (we have come so far, with Degree Programs, Associations, more competitive salaries, etc.), but...what is the role of a professional? Is professionalism undermining volunteerism?", she asked. Point taken.

She talked about staff who say "Maybe the whole problem is the Board!" and how Board members when surveyed "complained that they were NOT included, that they feel pushed to the side.

Another shadow, being afraid of our salaries (as more and more focus comes on "excessive compensation". Kim said "We’re WAY too secret about our salaries and our salary scale (if you really want to be transparent, (8 times the lowest, or was it the market?) We can actually put that on our website.

Kim identified the second challenge as that of Fiduciary Responsibility. The shadow is that in being risk adverse, how do we keep creating organizations that our truly alive?"

"Our grant agreements – now call for us “not to hire a terrorist” “run it thru a database of known terrorist suspects..." and "we’re afraid of speaking out about it, because we’re afraid of loosing our tax exempt status!".

"Have you STOOD UP FOR SOMEONE recently? QUESTIONED AUTHORITY LATELY? read the Constitution and the International bill of human rights recently? These are "our chief responsibility!", said Kim (clearly on a roll now).

The Final Shadow Kim identified as the notion of forming a lasting institution This one is where I felt the deepest connection/ring of truth. "Established non-profits can get caught up in preserving their organization (known as "planning for the future") and fail to remember that it is the work that is important". "Is the Institution essential?", Kim asked, "Or is it the work that is important (the work has to be the driver).

A clue can be found in our name: "Non-Profit". "We shouldn’t define ourselves by what we are not” and the rest of the world calls us “Non-governmental” NGO’s. "We should NOT agree to the do the work of the government!!!" she proclaimed (to a round of applause).

She concluded with a quote from Anais Nin:

"the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

If you want more of Kim Klein's information you can find it on the Grassroots Fundraising website. There you will also an e-newsletter to join, webinars by Kim, the "Dear Kim" column, and more (go and look around for yourself, it's an amazing resource).

I also bought her book Fundraising for Social Change and I look forward to reading it sharing my thoughts on it in a future blog.

Signing Out, Pam Ashlund blogging for the Nonprofit Eye


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1 comment:

Trucha said...

"The Final Shadow Kim identified as the notion of forming a lasting institution This one is where I felt the deepest connection/ring of truth. "Established non-profits can get caught up in preserving their organization (known as "planning for the future") and fail to remember that it is the work that is important". "Is the Institution essential?", Kim asked, "Or is it the work that is important (the work has to be the driver)."

Okay, so I'm definitely a "it's the work, not the institution" type of guy. However, at some point there is a realization that if one wants to be able to have the wherewithal to keep doing the work and keep changing lives, then one better shore up the institution. For people like myself, there is almost an intuitive recoiling away from "planning for the future" emphases. But my brain knows that this and "the work" are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I guess it's all in the underlying values and approach. In other words, in order for me to get on board with a "planning for the future" initiative, I need to know what are the motivations of those involved and, ultimately, have an agreement of the heart with them.