This short Chronicle of Philanthropy interview with Seth Godin is from December, and as usual Godin hits the point hard: nonprofits have a tendency to act in corporate, structured, safe ways, often to the detriment of the values they espouse. He criticizes the “be like a business” mentality that he traces to the early philanthropists, who themselves generally acquired their fortunes through the private sector.
I share the underlying sentiment (nonprofits should act more like artists and playwrights, as he colorfully puts it), but I think the frame is wrong. The question, in Jim Collins’ fashion, isn’t how nonprofits can act more like businesses, but how nonprofits can act more like successful organizations. Both the business world and the nonprofit world run the gamut from the sloppy, useless, not-likely-to-be-around-next-year outfits to the slick, efficient, effective, highly successful operations. The key to being great isn’t emulating “the private sector,” but rather learning from the best practices across all sectors.