Okay, fellow nonprofits, it’s time for us to stop whining and start doing what everyone’s been telling us to do – Act like a business!
We’ve been hearing this for years, now. “Nonprofits need to be run like businesses.” Our donors tell us that, government agencies tell us that, foundations tell us that, academics and businesspeople tell us that, the watchdog groups tell us that, even experts on nonprofit management and service delivery like Bill O’Reilly tell us that. So, if everybody thinks so, we need to stop fighting it. These are tough economic times; our missions and our survival demand that we step up and do the right thing.
To begin with, let’s look at regulation. We keep resisting it. “We’re good people,” we plead. “We’re mission-driven. We can monitor ourselves.” And so, we manage to duck out from under Sarbanes-Oxley and slip away with the leniency of the new 990. Enough! We need to be regulated just like businesses. Our corruption cannot continue unchecked. So, let’s be proactive. Let’s go to Congress and demand our own regulatory agency that imposes the same rigor on us that the SEC requires of the hedge fund industry and the Federal Reserve has used to prevent excesses among financial service businesses.
Then there’s the question of outcomes. It’s time to stop complaining that our results are too hard to measure and own up to the fact that, if we are to be viewed as professionals on a par with any other business leaders, we need to be held accountable for our results just like they are. If we fail, we fail, and we should pay the price. Why should our consequences for poor performance be any different from those for Citigroup or General Motors?
Executive compensation is another area where we need to start acting like business grown-ups. The new 990 requires detailed disclosure of how executive compensation is determined and what comparisons have been made to compensation in other organizations. This is as it should be. Businesses compare compensation to arrive at their packages all the time. When big corporate executives negotiate their salaries, they always review what their peers are getting in order to demand more. Otherwise, they just go somewhere else. Why should we be different?
And, finally, there’s the question of our role in the crumbling economy. It’s time to go to our funders and legislators and explain to them that they need us. Do they want the 15 or so million people that we employ to be out on the streets? And if we are, who’s going to take care of us since we nonprofits won’t be around anymore to do it for ourselves?
Paint a picture of life without us. The homeless sleeping on their fairways, after-school programs abandoned and vacant-eyed third graders marauding the streets like zombies, empty concert halls and no entertainment left but reruns of “My Mother the Car.” Is this the world they want to live in? Quite simply, the nonprofit sector is too big to fail!
So, let’s be like business. We need bail-out money. We need a lot, and we need it fast. Then, when you get it, pay yourself a big bonus and quit. This will have many beneficial results:
- Some of the money will go to buy stuff. Good for the economy.
- Some of the money will go into banks. We’ll jump-start the stalled credit system!
- Some of the money will be invested. We can save the stock market!
- And, when we retire, new people will have to replace us. Unemployment solved!
So step up, nonprofits. Embrace your business side. It’s our civic duty.