Defining Your Value: Reclaiming Relevance to the Community You Serve
By Guest Blogger: Joe McClennan
Managing Partner, McClennan Partners
Happy New Year! How often did you receive or express that greeting toward the end of December and the beginning of January? In 2017, for a number of my nonprofit clients, the emphasis is on the “New.” Continuing to do what they have always done is no longer possible because of funding cutbacks, change in management philosophy, loss or expected loss of key staff, and/or a call for a deep re-evaluation of what the value proposition now needs to be for the community they serve.
In planning and facilitating January Board retreats, I hear leadership asking in a new and more thoughtful way, “What can we do to better identify – and thus more effectively meet – the needs of the clients we serve?”
One organization is attempting to accomplish this by having board and staff members identify other organizations in the Chicagoland area who are doing exceptional work serving similar audiences. Once identified, an appointment is scheduled and board members are going out to meet with leadership at the identified organizations to receive answers to questions such as:
1. What do you see as the assets/strengths of your organization?
2. What struggles do you see your clients trying to handle?
3. What are your organization’s current and future responses to those struggles?
4. What do you see as the most significant trends (changes in demography, technology, funding) that will impact the clients you now serve?
Similar questions are being asked of key stakeholders in the community. While not all the results are in, some unexpected positive results have already happened. They include the realization that we are not alone in experiencing the pain and challenges of our own environment. Already-good relationships with colleagues on the Board have been strengthened as adventures of talking to new contacts are shared. What is most positively surprising have been the requests to initiate conversations on how the sharing of existing resources and co-participation in each other’s fundraising events might become possible.
In reflecting on this example, I am reminded of the work of Hildy Gottlieb, a Western State colleague, who claims that the terminology we (those who serve clients in human services, educations, the arts and economic development) use is misdirected. She writes,
“Calling your organization a Nonprofit focuses the world’s attention on a particular inconsequential aspect of your being – the financial means that allow your work to be accomplished…. Misperceptions often arise from the emphasis the ‘nonprofit’ label places on money.
The term ‘Nonprofit’ feeds our insecurities. It isn’t often you hear the term used as an excited exclamation: ‘We are a Nonprofit!’ Instead, the term is used (for example) when asking for a discount. ‘We can’t afford much – we’re a nonprofit.’ No surprise there – the name almost screams, ‘We have no money!’
The term also puts organizations on the defensive, as the name itself is a comparison to something positive, stating unequivocally, ‘That thing you think of as positive – profit – we are NOT that.’
By using the term ‘Nonprofit,’ we are suggesting that only tax-exempt organizations do good for the world. That divisiveness precludes our working together to build strong, resilient, vibrant communities.”
Her suggestion is that the better (and more accurate) way to describe the impact of the work is that organizations serving clients in these areas are “community benefit organizations.” She notes that calling your organization a Community Benefit Organization declares to the world your primary purpose – to provide benefit to the community.
She goes on,
“Referring to your organization as a Community Benefit Organization generates an almost palpable sense of strength and power. That sense of strength then pervades every decision that is made, and every action that is taken.
So what is the highest priority outcome of this work we are all doing to make our communities amazing places to live? Is it to vow never to make a profit? Or are we promising to provide benefit to our communities, now and into the future? Are we promising to build strong, healthy, resilient, vibrant places to live? In the end, if that community benefit is what we are promising to provide, then that is the promise we should proudly proclaim in our name.”
As we work within our organizations in this new year, a possible means to “re-New” them is to ask at board and staff meetings:
• What is the benefit we have promised to provide to the community?
• How will the goals of our organization achieve the benefit we have promised to provide?
Written by Joe McLennan, Managing Partner, McLennan Partners. McLennan Partners provides consultative facilitation services for organizations seeking to improve board effectiveness, initiate strategic planning efforts, strengthen board relationships and prepare for collaborative partnerships.
Want to learn more about Joe and McLennan Partners? Contact Big Buzz Idea Group via email, info@bigbuzzideagroup, and we would be happy to connect you.