What if there were no not for profits?

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“It’s time to stop calling yourselves not for profits. It’s about profit for social purpose” Cheryl Kernot, Social Enterprise Symposium Coffs Harbour 5 November 2014.

For too long the notion of dealing to embedded social issues has been the sole responsibility of government and by proxy not for profit organisations. Certainly the massive shift in ‘social impact culture’ is changing this but we still have a long way to go – and I believe one massive positive step would be to re-frame the whole language of ‘not for profit’.

My experience is influenced through working for numerous years in what’s identified as one of the ‘most highly disadvantaged’ communities in regional NSW, Australia. A small community with a high Aboriginal population, low rates of engagement in education and similarly low income expectations. The community ticks all of the ‘disadvantage’ boxes and as a result is well versed in the language of addressing need by putting the problems at the forefront.

Not only are there numerous very hard working not for profit organisations WITHIN the community, the allure of the doom and gloom statistics are a honey pot to other externally based not for profit organisations who provide services to the community with varying degrees of success (some very successful, some useless) all the while garnishing delicious contributions to ‘core expenses’ in the process.

Meanwhile, this community is also a stunningly beautiful township with wide streets and quintessential regional Australian feel. It has a collection of heritage buildings, two museums with extensive and interesting collections, a vibrant arts community and a rich and diverse culture.

So why is there so much focus on what’s NOT right when there’s so much that IS ??

Please understand – I highly value the work of not for profits and their people which is why I’ve aligned to this sector for well over a decade. But I think it’s time to reclaim some language.

The term ‘not for profit’ has unfortunate implications of poverty, not being able to thrive, needing handouts and cheap labour to survive – don’t believe me? Look at the wage levels of employees, how much is spent on training for staff? Or well-being? Look at the minuscule budgets that many not for profits function within.

And when do people work alongside the ‘not for profit’ sector? When it’s time to ‘give back’ – offering pro-bono or heavily discounted services because it ‘makes them feel good’.

Too many not for profits survive on the smell of an oily rag not having any reserves for future service delivery. If you’ve worked in the sector it’s quite likely you’ve experienced situations where you’re FINALLY making progress with a client – and then the funding runs out…

It’s a grand irony is that the organisations who work hardest to support those most in need to survive spend an enormous amount of time scrambling about for money to address their own survival.

In Australia at the moment not for profits are feeling the squeeze of commercial reality. Government funding applications once solely the domain of the not for profit world are being opened to commercial tender, service delivery that was primarily the responsibility of not for profits is opening up to the free market (think NDIS, think aged care and beyond).

Let’s face it, not all of the 600,000 or so not for profits that currently exist in Australia will survive into the future.

Which ‘not for profits’ will survive I wonder?

This is my bet.

The not for profits that survive into the future will be those who not only reclaim the meaning of the language behind their organisational structures, the will exhibit numerous other characteristics including:

* Strong and mutually beneficial partnerships which address both business and client need (ensuring that if funding should be interrupted there’s still another pathway for clients – or, clients have another part of the pathway to move onto – i.e. engagement to education to work experience to employment).

* Multiple revenue streams which extend beyond government funding

* An appetite for calculated risk and ability to move from idea to implementation quickly

* Relationships with the local business community and a willingness to find a place to contribute and learn

* A clear picture of what is needed financially, to set goals and to actively sell

* Strong community buy-in and service alignment to the true need of the community

* An articulated pathway to reach a measurable set of goals

* An attitude of abundance – there is enough funding

* Potent and consistent branding (i.e. DELETE COMIC SANS AND CLIP ART FROM YOUR COMPUTER). There are SO many cost effective design solutions available these days there’s no excuse.

And most importantly they will see themselves as commercial entities whose role is to address social need.

Those are my thoughts… Yours?

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