Can nonprofit/trustee organizations be operated like business organizations?

Critiquing My Blog: “All Nonprofit’s are a Business – Need to be Run Like a Business”

Critiquing My Blog: “All Nonprofit’s are a Business – Need to be Run Like a Business”

By: Eugene Fram

I encountered a torrent of comments from consultants, chief executives and staffers replying to the blog listed above. Following are some abstracts of support and questioning I received:

One could say this is true, if we know what is truth, but one should avoid ALL. … We are called to be faithful, not to be successful. Why do we… avoid all ethical questions? … Granted, one should hope to wind up with excess revenues at year-end but to affirm who you suggest doesn’t appear to be worked through.” Philip S. Wood, CPA.

Sorry I disagree. Many/most nonprofits are aimed at creating social good. To be run like a business means risk – (taking) decisions for the short/near term, based on financial tradeoffs. While I agree nonprofits benefit from excellent leadership, discipline, solid strategy and financial planning, they should be run as nonprofits. Linda Williams

If businesses exist to create and retain customers, then nonprofits exist to create and retain members. I think this could be a good learning for many of the nonprofits I have (encountered). This is terrific, but they cannot do this without capital. The more those inside the nonprofit are motivated by their own sprite of “contribution to the world,” the more they could undermine their ultimate survival. (Companies that focus) inside-out rather than outside in will run into trouble.
Elliott Schreiber

I work for an organization … that (has a) mind-set to a for-profit business, … keeping in mind our core values, mission and vision. …

• A research department … regularly checks to make our programs are successful. We follow clients for two years after receiving services.
• Though measuring programs, … our donors have confidence is what we do and we have expanded contacts in the community.
• Our strategy department ensures that expansion will not drain resources from other areas.
• Our direct service employees are results oriented and goal focused.
• Also we take our employees very seriously. We would hate to expand, hire people or have our staff relocate and then havet o close up shop one year later.
• We are more mission focused – we are fiscally solvent, jobs are not in danger and have the numbers to prove that what we do works. Catherine Hayley

My Reactions

Philip: You hit the nail on the head with you comments about “ALL.” I concede the adjective was not well placed. However, some businesses also have a mission or creed to generate social good, like Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. However, if you examine the product that emanates from the firm, one can easily view it as creating obesity. Businesses and nonprofits must be judged on their missions and how they execute them.
I would take Ben & Jerry’s over a commercial call center that says its mission is to help charities, but then takes, as fees, 75% of the money donated. Or it might be a nonprofit that gives excess benefits to its management. (The IRS now has become a watchdog over these giveaways.)

Linda: Some businesses also have a double bottom line. For example utility companies have to please their stakeholders and meet utility commission regulations. Unfortunately, the term “being run like a nonprofit has become a negative term and only a high senior nonprofit mangers, who execute the functions you listed at a effective and efficient levels, will contribute to improving the situation.

Elliott: In my opinion you are correct. Nonprofit strategic plans should always have a section showing the estimated economic impact of what is projected. For an example, according to Cynthia Montgomery, a Harvard business professor, a nonprofit hospital whose mission is to “save lives” will not succeed long term if it does not “save lives efficiently and effectively.”

Catherine: I just want to join the chorus of people who commented how fortunate you are to work with an organization with a structure that makes such impacts.
It really shows that many nonprofits need to move towards a business model.

As one other respondent stated, nonprofits in the 21st century need to be “SMART i.e., Sympathetic, Malleable, Active, Realistic and Timely.