by: David Gee ৷ Senior Consultant, HUB International Midwest Ltd.
“Why do we label ourselves by our tax-status?”
Or more importantly…
“Why is the non-profit sector the only sector that describes itself
by what it is not??”
Eric Weinheimer posed these questions during his remarks at a November Donors Forum event, “The Next 40 Years – Moving Forward from a Position of Strength.” Eric is the Donors Forum’s new President & CEO and he was challenging an audience of service providers, grant makers, donors and philanthropic advisors to consider how our sector’s “Non-Profit” label impacts our ability to have people truly focus on the impact of our missions.
If we think of ourselves as mission driven, as advocates and a collective of people working to bring about social change, then why do most of us lead off by stating that we do “non-profit work” or call ourselves “non-profit professionals.” (I do it too–just look at my bio on LinkedIn.) Now, one could argue that it’s easier that way because… well, because that’s just what everyone is comfortable calling our sector.
but my sense is that Eric is really onto something here:
“What it is — the non-profit sector — is the back bone of our economy and our civil society. And it’s a new era, a new age, a time of great challenges and greater opportunities and we need to move beyond “nonprofit” towards social purpose. Move from charity to causes. Move from donations to investment.”
“We in our sector, we are not non-anything. We are educators and artists and philanthropists and grantmakers and investors and workforce developers and health care professionals and social investors and our value and our influence is significant.”
As our sector continues to take on an ever-increasing relevance in the growth of our communities and in the realization of our collective values, how we talk about this work will too. When we consider Dan Pollotta’s call to arms around the way we think about charity or, as we continue inviting donors to see the value and impact of full-cost funding (as opposed to a narrow focus on overhead vs. programs), wouldn’t these efforts be all the more effective and convincing if our sector was embraced for what we achieve instead of what we are not? The problem with the non-profit label is that it limits and diminishes the value of our work.
What if, in the alternative, we were known as the “Social Impact Sector” or something along those lines? What if we stopped referring to ourselves as non-profits and non-profit professionals in our conversations with donors, volunteers, colleagues, friends and family members and instead referenced our missions, our actions and our impact? It will surely take time to change the entrenched perspectives about our sector, but each of us has an opportunity to join the growing chorus of voices already leading the charge. And my hunch is that when we do, we’ll be able to engage others on a more meaningful level and ultimately, we’ll have a greater ability to advance our missions and increase our impact.
David Gee has been working as a development professional for nine years with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined HUB International’s Non-Profit and Public Affairs Consulting (NPPAC) team as a Senior Consultant after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development for over seven years. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David currently serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee the Development Committee for All Chicago and the Cara Program’s Major Gift Committee.