Recently I learned that a colleague of mine didn’t get a job leading a major organization. It was confusing, since all signs had seemed to indicate she was a good fit. After weeks wondering, she got a you-didn’t-hear-this-from-me from one of the hiring team members that the board had decided to go with someone with a corporate background. Someone who had no experience working in nonprofit was now going to lead a large and influential one, over my colleague who had years of relevant experience.
This happens frequently in our sector among the largest and most influential organizations. Foundations are especially guilty of this. According to this report from CEP that looks at the leadership of the largest 100 foundations in the US:
“Experience as a grantee, if you exclude colleges and universities …. isn’t much valued by foundation boards when they’re searching for a CEO. In 2012 we identified just 14 foundation CEOs with immediate previous experience at an operating nonprofit that wasn’t a college or university. Today, that number is even lower — just 10.”
[Image description: A stack of nine shiny gold coins on grey background. Image obtained from Pixabay.com. Wait, on second look, these might actually be chocolate coins!]
Every once a while, I encounter people who think nonprofits are getting it easy and should be paying taxes. “Rabble rabble,” they rabble, “why should only businesses pay taxes! Especially when most charities are scams, with the majority of their money going to their fat-cat CEOs’ pockets. Rabble!”
Here’s a comment someone made on one of my posts: “If nonprofit is an industry sector, then it is time to start taxing it.” (They also added, in response for my call for the sector to pay our people better: “If you own your own company, and you control the finances, go ahead, pay people more just because. On the other hand in the real world, you sound like a fool on this point.”)
From the tiresome memes and ignorant, bizsplainy blog posts and comments out there, I think some members of the public have this image of nonprofit folks as mustache-twirling con artists sitting at our desks counting piles of gold coins while starving children with trembling eyes beg us in fear for more gruel. “Mooooore?!! Only 2 cents of every dollar is available to purchase gruel, and we’ve spent it all this month!” Continue reading →
This week, my awesome smart audio speaker arrived. It’s really cool. I can use my voice to ask it to play music, forecast the weather, read news headlines, set the timer, add things to my calendar, and—with other devices linked to it—control the lights and other appliances in the house. Her name is Alexa, and she’s a lifesaver when I have a newborn screaming in my ears and a three-year-old dangling from my leg. Alexa also spouts pick-up lines upon request, although “Hey girl. Are you a high chair? Because I want to put a baby in you” did nothing to calm the children down.
Why do I bring this up? Because I am amazed and grateful for all the incredible stuff people come up with. I appreciate inventors and manufacturers and retailers and am happy to pay money for useful gadgets that make my life easier. For-profits are critical to society, and we nonprofit folks understand that. I don’t know a single nonprofit that makes vodka.Continue reading →
All right, business pals, we need to have another talk. First of all, I love y’all. I just moved into a new house this week, and spent time at a hardware store trying to find these little thingies that hold up the shelves in my kitchen cabinets. They’re called “shelf pins,” and you can move them to different holes to lower or raise the shelves. Without some business somewhere making these little pins, my liquor cabinet would not be able to fit my really tall bottles of vodka and it would just look awful. So yes, I am deeply appreciative for all the businesses out there doing all sorts of useful, interesting, and important stuff. I am glad you exist, and I am glad to pay money for the stuff you make and do. Especially vodka.
But dude, the condescension needs to stop. Recently, I’ve noticed it has been in the form of explaining to us simple nonprofit bumpkins just how much better off we’d be if we just acted more like for-profit businesses. Sometimes it is conscious, most times it is not, but always it is irritating. One time, I was showing a potential board member our Saturday morning program, which served 150 kids. It was his first visit, and he launched into a lecture about having a business plan. “We have a three-year strategic plan,” I said, and before I could elaborate, he interrupted to explain what a business plan was. He interrupted several times to explain various Important Business Concepts to me.Continue reading →