10 classic movies that could have been about nonprofit work


humphrey-bogart-619157_960_720Despite the awesomeness and complexity of our work, and the fact that we employ 10% of the work force, and the fact that independent studies that I have commissioned found that we have the most attractive professionals among all the sectors, nonprofit is still neglected by the media and society at large. 
I’ve written about the need for more TV shows about our sector. And now, we need to push for more movies. Imagine how much more awesome some of our classic movies would have been, if they had been about nonprofit. Here are some of my ideas, along with potential quotes. #nonprofitmovielines. Go make that trend on Twitter, like you did with #nonprofitpickuplines.

A Few Good Donors: An up-and-coming Development Director tries to convince her ED to change their org’s fundraising strategies, in the process encountering resistance and a complex conspiracy involving budgets, CRMs, the board, and strategic planning. “You want answers? You want the truth?! An effective donor cultivation strategy takes time and resources!”

The Shawshank Restriction: Andy, a new Program Director learns too late that the organization that just hired him had gotten trapped by a burdensome and restrictive multi-year federal grant. The terrifying realities of restricted funding are explored as Andy works to save the remainder of his program and his sanity, using his skills and intelligence to gain the trust of his jaded colleagues and extract the program and organization out of the dilemma. “Get busy doing work, or get busy doing paperwork.”

Nonprofit Fight Club: A depressed Director of Operations feels she has become a cog at her large nonprofit. At a peer learning group of other operation professionals, she meets Tyra, who introduces her to the Nonprofit Fight Club, a secret group of DOs who get together weekly to fight one another, a cathartic release from their day-to-day work of creating systems and processes. “The first rule of Nonprofit Fight Club is…make sure your liability insurance is up to date.”

Brokeback Gala: A painful and heartbreaking story of a nonprofit, desperate for funding, putting on a fundraising event. It was successful, though costing hundreds of staff hours. Each year, the org is compelled to do another event, and a team assembles, drawn by the promise of easy funding. But their hopes and idealism clash against the reality of event planning. “I wish I knew how to quit having events!”

The MSW Graduate. Unsure of his career path after getting a Master in Social Work, Benjamin volunteers at a senior program, where he meets a mentor. With her advice, he explores other nonprofits, falling in love with one and drifting apart from the senior program, incurring his mentor’s jealousy and wrath.  “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to get me to join your advisory board, aren’t you?”

The Shiny: A group of program officers representing different foundations goes off to a cabin on a weekend retreat to discuss and agree to some common priorities. One PO gradually unravels, pushing his colleagues to chase after “innovative” new concepts and programs instead of supporting general operating and existing programs that have been proven to be effective. They resist, but he wears them down one by one. “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny’s white paper!”

Roboconsultant: Set in the future, a consultant suffers an accident and is resurrected as half-robot, half-human super-consultant. He works with
several nonprofits, using newly-honed skills to help develop strategic plans and facilitate retreats, including an incredible power to repeat word-for-word what an internal team member says, but is actually listened to by senior staff and board. “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me to a meeting to operationalize your org’s values.”   

The Work Plan Matrix: Neo, an AmeriCorps VISTA member, feels a general sense of matrix-69681_960_720uneasiness at his organization that he can’t seem to shake. He performs tasks but does not under their importance in the organization’s mission and vision. Sometimes he feels like all he’s doing is busy work. He meets Morpheus, who tells him that he has been working in an illusion of order and purpose. Morpheus shows him the importance of developing a strong work plan matrix that spells out concrete goals, metrics, and deadlines. “You take the blue pill and go back to your cubicle and do assorted disconnected stuff. You take the red pill, and I’ll show you how important having a functional work plan is.”

Frankensteined: An obsessed Executive Director pieces a program together using bits of funding from various sources. Her creation comes to life and must face the horrors of its origin and existence, constantly yearning for stability and acceptance, even as it decomposes and its creator must search for new pieces of funding to keep it together. “It’s alive! It’s alive! For maybe one more fiscal year…”

The Godfounder: Set in the 40s, this is a story of Vito Corleone, who directs a nonprofit empire he has founded that delivers cannoli and hot meals to low-income seniors, and his Deputy Director Michael, who is quickly rising to take on Vito’s mantle while grasping with reservations about Vito’s methods. A suspenseful tale of loyalty, betrayal, generational divides, and the scheming and machinations in the dangerous world of hot-meal services. Someone wakes up with a severed stuffed unicorn head on his pillow. “Take the strategic plan. Leave the cannoli.”

Let me know what other movies you can think of, and it’s OK to spend the next hour tweeting out #nonprofitmovielines

May the Board be with you.

(And, We’ll always have that conference in Oshkosh Wisconsin…)

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