The categories below segment the non-profit sector into its major phyla (with further speciation nearly as varied as nature herself). I claim no scientific validity—this is an opinionated, tongue-in-cheek attempt to make sense of a sector as varied and diverse as the human condition itself.
1. Social Clubs — doing good works is perhaps the best foundation for friendship and community. Groups like this plan activity and raise money among themselves and their friends and families to deliver neighborhood-level impact. At their best, they are honest about their aims and intended benefits. They aren't businesses and don't pretend to be-- no delusions of grandeur here.
2. Feel Goods — these are social groups that use the rhetoric of solving larger problems but with no real intention or plan to get their programs beyond a marginal or token effort.
3. Enduring CBOs (Community Based Organizations)— these wonderful organizations are the meat and potatoes of the non-profit sector. There are tens of thousands, among the best threads in the fabric of American society. They have clear bounds for their services and seek to deliver quality at an intentional and well defined scale, typically at the neighborhood, municipal or at most a regional level. They often have significant unrealized organizational potential.
4. Dysfunction Junctions — an ugly miscellany numbering in the thousands, each unhappy in its own way. Victims of everything from Founder’s Syndrome to incompetent staff to micro-managing or tourist-class board members to inadequate financial processes to what is perhaps most common: a focus on personality, not process. Also includes a segment of liars and thieves, a disturbing minority. Together, they blight far too much acreage in the non-profit landscape.
5. Gutsy Aspirants — we think there are about 100,000 of these, and they represent the most promising, scalable organizations in the sector. They range from start-ups to $10-$20m annually. They have a proven or highly promising program model and are willing to work hard to get it to scale. There’s passion, yes, but also evidence of discipline and focus. Decent teamwork and committed leadership.
6. Staid Institutions — These are established regional orgs or affiliates of a strong national brand, but they are running on momentum. Great looking trees but they are hollow on the inside. They need moderate to serious triage before they come down in the next storm.
7. Big Business — major research institutions; in some cases, similar to large F500 enterprises, except for the blessings of their legacy tax status that every one of them should be thankful for and vociferously protective of.
It’s not a comprehensive list—anything that I missed? Please share your critiques and comments.
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