Does your non-proft organization make a difference? Americans don’t think so!

While driving around doing some errands yesterday, I was listening to sports talk radio WSCR 670 AM in Chicago. One of the radio hosts was talking about how teachers make a difference in people’s lives. He knew this to be true because his mother is a teacher and every year countless high school and college kids return home, visit their favorite teachers, and tell them so.

The radio host went on to share that he used to have doubts about the impact his work has other people’s lives; however, his opinion recently changed after one of the station’s listeners emailed him.┬áThe listener was diagnosed with cancer and needed to complete a rigorous chemotherapy regiment to find his way back to health. While that treatment path is a tough road to hoe, the listener scheduled his treatments during the this radio host’s show and credits him with getting him though some very tough times.

It dawned on me that many of us strive to make a difference in someone’s life or the world around us. In fact, I think it is at the core of the human condition and the non-profit sector, which got me thinking . . .

Does your non-profit organization make a difference?

I am currently reading Dan Pallotta’s book — “Uncharitable” — and it has been challenging my non-profit belief systems. In a nutshell, he argues that the non-profit sector is extremely under-resourced and┬áconstrained by laws and cultural beliefs that don’t apply to for-profit corporations. As a result, non-profits are seen as ineffective and are in many instances actually ineffective.

Does that sound overly harsh and upsetting? In the opening pages of his book, he eggs his critics on and encourages all of us to take a look around the non-profit sector and our community and ask questions such as:

  • Why do things seem to stay pretty much the same?
  • Why have our cancer charities not found a cure for cancer?
  • Why have our homeless shelters not solved the problem of homelessness?
  • Why do children still go hunger on the streets of America?

While Pallotta ends up blaming the system (not the people in the system) and points to the lack of resources, apparently many Americans aren’t as charitable and Pallotta points that out by sharing the following information from various opinion surveys:

“A study released in 2008 by Ellison Research showed that ‘most Americans believe non-profit organizations and charities are not financially efficient enough in their work.’ A 2004 Brookings Institution study found that ‘nearly one out of three respondents expressed little or no confidence in charitable groups, and only 11% said they believe that charities do a very good job of spending their money wisely.’ Seventy percent of people surveyed in a 2008 NYU study said that charities ‘waste a great deal’ or a ‘fair amount’ of money.”

As the radio show host said yesterday, all of us wake up every morning and strive to make a difference or at least make our lives matter. Pallotta posed some tough questions, but they aren’t out-of-bounds. The surveys cited by Pallotta paint a stark picture of what many Americans think of the non-profit sector, which includes your non-profit agency. In this context, it should come as no surprise that the average annual donor turnover rate in America hovers around 50%.

So, how do you know that you and your organization is making a difference? How are you sharing that with your donors and your community? Are you seeing any difference in your donor loyalty rates? Please use the comment section to tell us what you’re measuring to prove everyone wrong. Or are you having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because you aren’t finding that sense of satisfaction and fulfullment from your non-profit job?

Over the next few days, I will share a few more observations from Dan Pallotta’s book “Uncharitable;” however, I encourage everyone to buy a copy of the book. It will make you mad, but I think it is healthy to have your beliefs challenged every now and again.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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