What's In A Name?

Every year or so, someone write about how organizations in our sector need a new name. Non or not for profit, they posit, is a negative and we need to position ourselves in a more positive light. And every time I read one of these articles or blogs I think, “Ridiculous.” It is a tax designation, just as a business can be a sole proprietorship, a limited liability partnership, a corporation—S or C. It’s how you keep your books. Not how you run your business.

What I think is really being said is that we in the nonprofit sector need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves or thinking that our name means we can’t bring in more money than it costs to run our operation. Or that we must run our operations as leanly as possible.

We must stop worrying about what we are called and think, instead, of how we are perceived. And changing our name is cosmetic at best.

Too often we are seen as being poorly run. Too often this is accurate.

I just met with a client who is all too typical. The organization simply does not have the resources to fulfill its mission appropriately.

His board tells him that he must raise the money in order to hire a development director to…yep, raise money. Fine except he is also the chief program officer, and if he doesn’t take care of that part of his job, there will be no reason to raise money for the organization at all.

His board members understand that fundraising is part of their job—but none of them wants to identify, cultivate and certainly not solicit donors at the level that will make a difference. They are willing--perhaps--to ask their friends to buy two tickets to the gala and to write thank you notes to those donors who have made gifts. But beyond that? They are too busy; too afraid; and beside they don’t know anyone they can ask.

So perhaps instead of changing the name of our sector, we need to change the way we chose our board members—putting on our boards only those who have already made a big commitment and who are willing to make another commitment by asking their friends and colleagues to join with them.

Boards, of course, are not the only issue. Staff needs to consider not what we can’t accomplish but what we can. And what is important.

Only then, regardless of what we are called, can we truly serve our clients, our cause, and our community.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the free newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30 minute consultation.