Over the past several years, the breakthrough thinking of Dan Pallotta and his work has reached many in the nonprofit arena. His TED Talks, particularly ”The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong”, his two books “Uncharitable” and “Charity Case” and the creation of an organization advocating for this next generation approach, the Charity Defense Council are critical components in changing the way the nonprofit industry is viewed.
In his first book, he traces the origins of nonprofits dating back to the Puritans; Pallotta identifies charity as a remedy for the wealth created in the history of our nation. I won’t do a book report summarizing the books. They’re hard to find at bookstores but easily accessible on kindle, nook or play books for the e-reader of your choice.
He was of course, highlighting the point that our culture believes nonprofits should operate under a set of rules distinct and disadvantaged from the for-profit arena. The biggies include the suggestion that nonprofits should not invest heavily in infrastructure (a.k.a. the Future). They shouldn’t have the option of spending money on unnecessary expenses such as competitive salaries for staff or senior leadership. Finally, they should be operated on a shoestring budget. In other words, try to solve huge societal budgets with tiny dollars. A perfect example: we're thrilled to get free advertising at 4:00 AM rather than spend to reach audiences when engagement is high.
I agree with his thinking and advocate for it on any occasion I can. Hopefully the newly launched Charity Defense Council (CDC) will make inroads into this seismic shift in thinking. We can't solve big problems with small-thinking solutions. To learn more about the CDC, visit their website www.charitydefensecouncil.org Sign up. Get involved.
Beyond spending; however, a significant gap exists when comparing nonprofits and corporations. The biggest is how they operate day to day. Having spent nearly two decades in the sector, I'm convinced the charities suffer from another challenge:
Attitude. A lack of a true sales/marketing ATTITUDE.
I’ve worked directly for a range of charitable organizations, consulted and coached with many more. As such, I believe I’ve experienced a good sampling. While many excel at their mission, most (not all!) are quite content to be approached, rather than approaching. Mail goes out and emails are sent. Proposals are submitted along with responses to RFPs. Follow up calls are made in accordance with the exacting rules set out by the foundations (translation: don’t call us - we’ll call you!)
But the heavy lifting of truly assertive - OK, plain old aggressive - outreach is rarely on the checklist. I’m not suggesting that organizations that don’t aggressively prospect have a bad attitude. However, the prevailing thought process is still that charitable organizations don't do aggressive things like cold call, prospect, present, gain, commitment and yes, CLOSE. The simple truth is that if you're trying to build, grow and achieve your impact, this is a big part of the game. Further, no matter how strong your Board of Directors may be, can you ever have too many qualify prospects?
Much as Pallotta is advocating for change in the way dollars are spent, I advocate for change in the way time is spent. Whether we like it or not, the charitable sector is a competitive one. Organizations compete for donor attention whether they're individuals, corporations or foundations. While posts, Facebook likes and other vehicles pull in attention, the surest way to get attention is to grab it! And that's my call. If you're not grabbing for the attention of individual, corporate and institutional donors, one of your peers or competitors is.
Time to hit the phones - and no time like the present. And if you’re having trouble getting started, make my number the first you call: 917-733-8569... I’m happy to help!
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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