- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
Not so much.
After an energizing and star-studded opening plenary for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service at the Radio City Music Hall yesterday, I went to a session, titled End of Nonprofits (as we know it). Clearly many others were just as intrigued by the provocative title, because the session was jam-packed. So, is it the end of nonprofits as we know it? From what I gathered from this panel – not really.
Rather, the session encouraged nonprofits to look to and learn from innovative models that are successful and impactful, such as social entrepreneurship and other hybrid models, cross-sector collaboration, leveraging new media and technologies, and learning from other effective nonprofits.
The panel, moderated by Jonathan Greenblatt, Founder & President of All for Good, gave great examples of how they’re leveraging the above models:
- Adam Ostrow, Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, talked about their Summer of Social Good program
- Cheryl Dorsey, CEO of Echoing Green, talked about how they fund innovative new ideas and social entrepreneurs
- Ryan Scott, Founder & CEO of CauseCast, gave great examples of how media, celebrity and corporate alignment can help nonrprofit causes
- Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething, a social entrepreneur herself, reiterated that there are great nonprofits (or not-for-profits) out there and the sector isn't broken
Of course, I believe in all of the above models and finding new ways to innovate for success, but the fact of the matter is that the concept of innovation (and learning from it) is not new! Innovation happens and has happened every day since the beginning of time – it just takes shape in different forms. What we view as the more traditional nonprofits at one point were the innovators of their time. The world will continue to evolve, there will always be new organizations, new models, new ways of doing things that will be the "innovative" thing of its day.
I had the good fortune of sitting in on an interview Senator Harris Wofford gave to WhatGives?! and he talked about the fact that America's creation was due to social invention, thus it should be ingrained in our nation’s DNA. I am likely butchering his example, because I am not much of a history buff, but he relayed that the first colonies were created and funded by for profit corporations from England, employed by the King, looking for expansion (for example, the East India Company), and it was the individuals on those ships that came together to come up with social solutions and plans for how they can create a new life and new nation. This is social innovation and social invention … not a new concept.
I really believe as long as there will be social issues to solve, there will be nonprofits (or the service nonprofits provide) in some shape or form – whether it’s a hybrid model like social enterprises or the more traditional. Tactics to leverage innovative models, including partnerships and collaboration, will be just that – smart tactics and programs that are a part of an organization’s complete strategic business plan. What’s more important to me, is how we teach nonprofits to better leverage these ideas and become more impactful and effective?
I was at another conference a couple weeks ago: Social Impact Exchange’s Inaugural Conference on Scaling. The Social Impact Exchange is a membership association of funders and the like that are focused on increasing investment and sharing knowledge on scaling high-impact nonprofits, programs, and initiatives. Much of the discussions and panels provided a critical look by funders (and other perspectives) at how we should be funding – to scale impact, be more mission-focused, and only support high-impact nonprofits. If this is the way funding is heading, then those nonprofits that aren't being smarter about how they're innovating and operating will be in trouble and it could be their end.
So, instead of asking about whether or not it’s the end of the nonprofit as we know it, maybe we should be talking about how we can strengthen nonprofits as we know it!