I overheard a conversation that wasn’t intended to offend me, but it did. It also insulted everyone I’ve ever worked with and for, anyone who volunteers and anyone who donates to causes they care about. The comment went something like this…
“Nonprofits are for people who couldn’t make it in the ‘real’ world. Those that don’t need to work, are making up for their silver spoon or for soccer moms to have something to do while their kids are in school and between their nail appointment and tennis lessons. It’s playtime for people after they’ve done their ‘real work’.”
This isn’t playtime.
Maybe you haven’t heard those exact words but the point remains that the idea of working in the sector, for many, is so foreign that they balk at the field, judge those who work in it and continue to perpetuate a society that measures success in dollars made over difference made.
100 years ago there was a field that people laughed at. A field that wasn’t taken seriously and that was considered a complete farce. The history of marketing is fascinating , considering it now shapes everything we think, feel and do. Now you can find a variety of sub-topic degree programs like international marketing, internet marketing, music marketing and even food marketing.
In the largest effort of its kind, Seton Hall shares that there are now almost 300 colleges and universities that offer degrees in nonprofit management. The heavy majority of these programs are still in their infancy and less than 20 years old – but people are studying the art and science of fundraising, how to employ, engage and motivate people in ways a dollar simply can’t and, oh yeah, how to solve the world’s social problems.
Lucky for us all, the sector’s size and impact is big…and it’s growing.
- In the U.S. last year, over $300 billion was donated to over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations.
- Almost 10 percent of the employed population works for a nonprofit – more than the finance industry including real-estate, and insurance combined.
- From 1998 to 2008 the number of charitable organizations registering with the IRS increased by 73%.
For the field to gain legitimacy, a few things need to happen.
1. Influential people in the business community need to take leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. In progress – think Gates, Buffet, Hughes, Oprah, Branson, etc.
2. Large companies (and partner institutions) need to invest in research that informs the field of study. In progress – see Bank of America study with the Center on Philanthropy amongst others.
3. People need to include the field in day-to-day conversations, make sure students have the option to study the subject early and help engage as many people as possible in the field regularly. Coming soon – but only with your help.
The efforts of those in the nonprofit sector, the services they provide and their place in our society needs to be studied, enhanced and not only respected, but valued. These are the people and organizations that are educating our children, feeding our hungry neighbors, housing unwanted pets and more – treat them like it.
What are you doing to move the field forward or where do you see great progress?