Sunday, November 05, 2006


by pam ashlund

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word
would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Let me begin with a declaration: No one should be allowed to self-declare themselves a “wave” (the third wave, the first wave, the new wave); It’s okay for historians to name these movements retroactively, but naming them yourself, in real time, is a no-no.

So many have called for a new name to replace "non-profit"; the objection being that it is defining ourselves by what we are not.

Try out a few commonly in use:

CBO - Community Based Organizations
NPO or Non-Profit Organization?
NGO or Non-Governmental Organization
"Civil Society"
The "Third Sector" (Church and State being first and second)

Pondering these, I came across a website called ForBenefit.Net where a new name (and model) is proposed: For-Benefit.

Touted as "a new paradigm in organizational design" and "a new class of organization", the For-Benefits are: "driven by a social purpose... economically self-sustaining, to be socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible".

For-Benefits seek to maximize benefit to all stakeholders, and 100% of the economic profits" they generate are invested to advance social purposes. They strive to be democratic, inclusive, open, transparent, accountable, effective, efficient, cooperative, and holistic...they aim to link two concepts which are held as a false dichotomy in other models: private interest and public benefit.

Where to start? where to start? First, I love the expression "false dichotomy", second, with the exception of the "self-sustaining" part, this model sounds identical to the current non-profit model, third it violates my rule "no naming yourself the new wave", this includes calling yourself a fourth sector.

Let me offer a corollary to that rule: no self-declarations of "new paradigm" status. Nine times out of ten you won't be using the term correctly. Over twenty-five years after Thomas Kuhn coined the term, the power has gone out of the word, having been both over and misused.

Kuhn coined the term (Paradigm Shift) in 1962 in his “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. The term had a very specific set of criteria.

when enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis… During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual "battle" takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm. Wikipedia

To actively try to change a dominant paradigm usually requires all of the members of the current regime to die before a new paradigm can take hold.

In the end this whole identity crisis will sort itself out (eventually). A name change may be a lot like a face lift, it might make us look better, but it won't make us any younger! Although a name change may be on the superficial side of the scale, let me end by offering a tiny ray of hope: social change will happen, we just might not live to to see it.

This article is the fourth in a continuing series on the Nonprofit Identity Crisis. If you missed the previous postings they can be found at:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No comments: