Work hard. Work faster. Non-profit competition!

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a recent post, John talked about increased competition and the “always-on, always-connected” escalating and fast pace pitch of the business world. He points to globalization as one reason for this phenomenon and concludes that it is a losing battle to fight. The only way forward is to adapt and RUN harder! I think the story from Thomas Friedman with which he starts his post really sums everything up nicely.

In non-profit terms, competition is an interesting topic to explore. If you pull a focus group of non-profit executive directors together and ask about competition, I know that the surface comments would all be about collaboration and sharing. However, having been part of conversations like these, I also know that when you go deeper into this conversation things change and you start to hear things like:

  • “That is MY donor.”
  • “They are trying to poach MY staff.”
  • “They are trying to recruit MY board member.”

Whenever I hear language like this from my peers, I have a tendency to roll my eyes and want to get on my bully pulpit and preach about how none of us can “own” a donor, volunteer, or staff person. However, I need to avoid do this because Thomas Friedman and John Greco would probably say that those are natural human reactions within the context of a competitive capitalist marketplace.

While it is this instinct that will probably save your non-profit agency, my gut feeling tells me that focusing on “the people” (e.g. donor, volunteer, staff, etc) is the wrong place to focus.  If you want to keep all of these people engaged in your agency’s mission, then focus on the core reason these individuals decided to give you money as well as work and volunteer for you — they believe in what you do!

When each of these groups of people decide to get involved with your agency, they do so because they are drawn to your mission. So, if you don’t do a good job in measuring and demonstrating your impact, then your shiny allure will likely tarnish and thanks to the phenomenon of “competition” they will be drawn to another agency and another cause.

If your non-profit wants to compete in the 21st Century for limited resources, then you need to figure out what the United Way has been saying for more than a decade. You need to demonstrate your community impact.

Of course, this is easier said that done. Measuring your agency’s “real” impact requires resources, focus, attention to detail and development of new tools and processes. Combine these requirements with the “under-resourced” nature of the non-profit sector and we circle back around to John Greco’s blog post “Running (for your life)“. I really think that John’s conclusions apply to our challenges when it comes to measuring impact:

  • We need to accept this and stop fighting. The reality is that “our cheese has moved” and donors have stopped giving money just because they like us and what we try to do with our clients. Donors now focus on results and so should we. In the final analysis, our clients deserve it.
  • “Learning” is a survival skill.
  • The early bird gets the worm. Start doing something NOW. You run the risk of “paralysis by analysis” if you think too hard about something like this. You will get farther with a “trial by fire” mentality.

If you are looking for resources on measuring impact, click here to check out a presentation that I found online. It is kind of interesting, especially when you get to the balanced scorecard and dashboard information. The AARP example caused me to rethink a few things.

If you are looking for a new book to read on the subject of non-profit competition, David LaPiana’s book titled “Play To Win” looks really interesting. I might just make this my next reading project. Click here to read an article from The Foundation Center from the authors of this book.

Do you find yourself running harder and fast? How are you maintaining your work-life balance? Are you reconsidering how you’ve done things in the past and re-engineering work processes and systems? Are you making tough choices with your chart of work and your employees’ chart of work? When it comes to non-profit competition, what are your thoughts about focusing on measuring impact? Am on-point or off-base?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in on these issues. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

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