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What values should nonprofits exemplify?

What do non-profit values say about nonprofits?

Johns Hopkins ran a recent national survey asking nonprofits about their core values.  Nonprofits identified seven values as ones they cherished the most: productive, effective, enriching, empowering, responsive, reliable, and caring.

A follow on question asked nonprofits to state whether each value was better exemplified by non- or for-profit organizations. The data is telling:

Notice a pattern? We see the responses falling into two categories:

  • Emotional: caring, enriching, empowering
  • Material: responsive, reliable, effective, productive

In general, nonprofits believe they do much better than for-profits in the area of emotional well-being. But in terms of material outputs? Substantial numbers of nonprofit folks believe they just don’t do as well here.

This is something we can fix. There is no reason in the world that nonprofits can’t be every bit as efficient and productive as a for-profit.  It’s simply a matter of clarity of purpose, intent, and execution.  The best ways to manage organizations and enterprises have been developed over the past century and can just as easily be applied to organizations in the social space as organizations trying to make a buck.

What’s more, emotional well being is most certainly not a monopoly of organizations that perform charity.   There can be just as much caring, empowerment and enrichment at for-profits. There is passion at Apple for empowering their customer’s lives. The folks at Starbucks believe a great cup of coffee is enriching. There are people at Seventh Generation who care a great deal about our collective well-being.  And millions flock to these companies because they see these values in action.

Emotions as part of our productive life are indeed important.  And there is zero doubt that nonprofits benefit from the caring and passion of people who see problems in society and life that are not addressed by finance capitalism.  Passion and relationships drive nearly all productive work, so attention absolutely must be paid towards this.

We at Altruist believe in the middle path. We need passion and productivity. With caring, we also need speed and efficiency.  Whatever the non-profit mission or vision or purpose in life may be, if it isn’t also using enterprise-class methods around performance and productivity, it simply isn’t delivering all the good it could be.

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