Maxie Carpenter says, “Nonprofits Need to Be Disrupted!” Until just the last few years, if you were making a small gift to a Nonprofit, whether sending a check in response to a mail solicitation, donating via a credit card, or otherwise, you probably felt as if you were putting money into a black hole. Tracing how the money was spent was almost impossible, as was measuring the impact of those dollars.
Enter technology. Although giving into the black hole still happens virtually through Donate Now Buttons, a new generation of digital-savvy Nonprofits are enabling donors not only to go online and donate a few dollars anywhere, any time, but also to receive direct feedback (including photographs, videos, data, or messages from the recipients themselves) on how their gift is helping transform lives or address social problems.
It’s difficult to underestimate the extent to which technology could improve the Nonprofit Sector. Managing donations electronically and transparently is just a start. Through crowdsourcing, anyone with access to the Internet can contribute ideas. On social media, anyone can launch an advocacy campaign. Digital data makes it affordable for Nonprofits of all sizes to assess social problems and track their progress toward addressing them.
Of course, Nonprofits must be willing, equipped, and able to use the data they collect. New channels for giving do not, in and of themselves, create more donors or increase impact. Why? Because having access to technology and using it for good are two different things. Online excitement about a cause is not always easy to translate into reality in terms of outcomes. In fact, it turns out that gestures of support such as Facebook Likes, for example, lower the chances of someone donating to a cause because users feel satisfied that they’ve made a public endorsement. However, for committed donors, technology can enable greater impact.
Technology is a powerful force for change, or what I prefer to call a disruption. This kind of disruption doesn’t take place easily or at the same pace in other sectors. In fact, it happens at a much faster pace. The Nonprofit Sector, however, is only recently starting to tap into technology’s potential.
So, why is this?
Historical, cultural, emotional, behavioral, and organizational barriers often stand in the way of progress. I’ve visited the topic of the RC Factor (Resistance to Change) in my Blog, my Podcast and my Video Broadcasts on many occasions. Any kind of challenge, change or shake up (disruption) in any organization can be unsettling, particularly in the Nonprofit Sector, where accountability is almost entirely self-imposed.
I’ve noted often that the culture of the Nonprofit Sector has been an obstacle to the pace of adaptability required by the external environment literally since the beginning of the financial collapse of the US in 2008. In previous posts, I’ve also described that culture in terms of not only the lack of accountability, but the willingness to sit back and wait for revenue to come from increasingly unreliable sources, such as grants, donors, volunteers, etc.; a lack of necessary business acumen and operational skills; a history of unengaged board members; turnover in generational donors; and not understanding the link between marketing and development, just to name a few.
An example of that slow pace is that Nonprofit donations are only recently being referred to as investments because the sector has only recently begun to change their word speak from giving to investing. Another disruption in terms of donations is that Donors rarely conducted the same amount of due diligence and analysis they would when buying stocks, investing in a start-up, or buying into a mutual fund. It was typically based upon emotion. Not so today. With the passing of generational donors, their offspring want to know where the money is going and what the money is producing.
So, what does this mean for Nonprofits in terms of Disruption?
One of the reasons that donors haven’t heretofore undertaken an analysis of their giving is that the information needed to do so was hard to come by. Comparing Nonprofits in the same way that consumers compare other products and services is difficult. Without insight into what works and what doesn’t, donors were having to use intuition, emotion, and personal relationships to bridge the gap between their money and a perceived outcome.
Donors today seek better information regarding the impact their gifts have, which is something the sector has always struggled to provide. In the absence of for-profit drivers such as stock price, capitalization, product and price differentiation, etc., donor accountability has been very limited, especially when too many Nonprofit or Foundation scandals show up in the headlines. Additionally, assessing social and environmental impact is much harder than measuring financial returns. Hence the need for a disruption.
The example of disruption I’ve used in this post is technology because it offers a solution by providing unlimited reserves of information, allowing donors to see their gifts’ impact, and helping Nonprofits and Foundations provide detailed and timely feedback on how they use donor money.
There are many more examples of the kind of disruption required by the Nonprofit Sector to regain, re-equip and re-engage. As with any kind of disruption, it takes a culture of leadership that is willing to do three things:
1. Understand that every person and every organization has a life cycle that’s influenced by a disruption of some kind on a daily basis.
2. Face the reality that change is inevitable and is motivated by disruption.
3. Be willing to take the risk of initiating a controlled disruption rather than risking one that is unexpected and unplanned.
Truth be told, I’d rather initiate the former than be a casualty of the latter.
Maxie Carpenter Says, “Nonprofits Need to Be Disrupted” was written by Maxie Carpenter a consultant with Development Systems International, author and speaker, focused upon Organizational Development and Leadership Character & Behavior. Maxie was formerly with Wal-Mart for 27 years, beginning in 1973 as a stock person and eventually attaining the positions of Assistant Manager, Store Manager, District Manager, Operations Coordinator for Walmart US, Director of HR & Talent Development for Walmart US, and retiring in 2000 as Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Walmart US. He’s pursued several interests, providing an expansive experiential perspective to individuals and organizations across the country in the academic, nonprofit, corporate and small business communities. His focus has been on Organizational Structure and Function with an emphasis on Culture & Ethics and Senior Management Development in the area of Character and Behavior Assessment. Maxie’s taught as an Adjunct Professor in the Don Soderquist School of Business at John Brown University, and in the Sam Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He was most recently Director of Operations for the Samaritan Community Center, the largest feeding nonprofit in the State, leaving this past December to focus on Nonprofit Consulting and Leadership Character & Behavior. His mentor, Sam Walton, with whom he directly and indirectly interacted over the course of his career, heavily influenced Maxie’s perspective with the core of Authentic Leadership. Maxie’s authored several publications, including Managing Difficult People in the Workplace: A Practical Guide to Confronting Difficult People and I Didn’t Ask You to Dance! I Asked You to Talk: A common sense, humorous and at times, spiritual approach to communication in a world obsessed with political Correctness! Maxie Carpenter is a self-described servant leader, who believes that people put you where they want you based upon how you treat them. Maxie Carpenter is the only professional in the state Certified as a Facilitator, Coach & Consultant to administer the Merit Profile™. This assessment measures an individual’s character attitudes, beliefs and commitments over ten primary leadership principles in order to recognize opportunities for improving personal leadership effectiveness. The Merit Profile also greatly improves the predictability of an organization’s human capital decisions regarding culture, talent acquisition, employee development and employee retention initiatives. Maxie is also a proud member of National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives.