Nonprofit Management Ideology: Are You Liberal or Conservative?

When discussing the future evolution of the nonprofit sector with colleagues and classmates, I often explain myself and then say, “but that’s coming from a Nonprofit Lefty…”

Everyone wants nonprofit progress, but there are different trains of thought in the nonprofit world about which practices and mentalities will get us there.

Nonprofit right: On one hand there are folks that are set on keeping the sector ideologically separate from the others. They advocate the more conservative and traditional practices that got us to where we are today– such as championing low administration costs, hiring predominately folks who work only for nonprofit organizations or are experts in the field, and drawing out the moral differentiation between the civic sector and private sector. When I think of a nonprofit thought-leader focused on reform and progress from a more “conservative” standpoint, I think of Rosetta Thurman.

Nonprofit left: On the other end of this nonprofit political spectrum, there are organization leaders that favor a more inclusive definition of the nonprofit sector which merges practices with other sectors and approaches each social mission as its own unique battle. This point of view advocates an entirely fresh way of thinking and allows for a complete evolution to something new (if that’s what’s best). For better or worse, this often means taking a lot more risks. Dan Pallotta is a  prime example of a nonprofit thought leader on the left side of the spectrum.

Definitions of the word liberal include broad-mindedness; having political or social views favoring reform and progress, and being not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.  Though I’m a self-described nonprofit liberal, I don’t always agree with folks like Dan Pallotta.  Ideology reform, however, is at the core of many of my nonprofit beliefs. I believe that:

  • Calculated risks that challenge sector constraints are absolutely necessary and breed progress
  • Publicizing individual nonprofit failures is critical and the benefit to the sector of sharing failures far outweighs individual organization’s potential donor loss for making the mistake
  • High administration costs may be necessary in the future and a sign of competitive, forward-thinking organizations
  • Social change-makers are not just nonprofit workers. Donors and connectors are change-makers as well
  • Business leaders may bring the most innovative ideas to organizations in the future and nonprofit leaders’ skill sets may bring the most innovative ideas to the business world
  • Nonprofits are businesses
  • Social change belongs to all sectors, and intersectoral partnerships– when they aren’t effective market solutions– will be powerful tools for learning and evolution for all sectors
  • Because nonprofits have different missions, they cannot always be grouped together or taught to abide by specific nonprofit management rules
  • We must lower the education barrier for nonprofit management positions
  • Nonprofits must try very hard to attract talent, and that talent will pay off in the end.

More conservative nonprofiteers have their own educated guesses grounded in nonprofit tradition and sector differentiation. And in fact, the conservative ideology has gotten us far. After all, there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States- most of which develop and adhere to a more conservative approach because a) it’s tried and true, or b) out of sheer necessity. For one, it’s easier to get foundation funding with low administration costs- and hey, if the system ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

And maybe the system’s not broken… but it can certainly be improved to make organizations more effective and sustainable. This is something both “liberal” and “conservative” nonprofiteers seem to agree upon.

Where do you stand on the nonprofit management ideology spectrum? Do you value the merit of popular nonprofit practices and tradition, or do you believe that the future of nonprofit leadership lies in a more open-minded approach?

*image from ttoes.wordpress.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 1 Comment

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

One Response to Nonprofit Management Ideology: Are You Liberal or Conservative?

  1. Kristen E Jeffers

    Your classifications are very interesting, but I can see where you are going. I tend to be a moderate in all of my life decisions, by default that all my conservative views balance out my liberal ones.

    In this case, I think that we should change the name of the sector to mission-driven. We all, even the c6’s and the others that don’t scream charity at first mention, are working to promote a mission first, then we look at profits later. THIS DOES NOT MEAN WE CAN’T MAKE LOTS OF MONEY. We just channel it differently. In many ways, we should be like well-run, privately owned, family businesses, only, like public companies, our “stockholders” (benefactors of the mission as well as donors) make sure we can keep the lights on.

    Not sure where that last thought places me, maybe I’m just a bit progressive 😉

     

Add a Comment