When members of our society organize to accomplish goals, they typically choose between two major domains – the “For-Profit” and the “Not-for-Profit” worlds. We tend to believe each of these worlds is very different and “ne’er the twain shall meet.” Is this division useful and valuable or limiting and restrictive for a vast number of participants? Is it real or is it largely just perception? The for-profit world is supposedly where the tough and the self-serving duke it out for money. The non-profit world is supposedly where people who care go to make a difference in the world and be of selfless service. Furthering the depth of the chasm between the two, there is generally little cross-over or sharing of ideas. Yes, the tax laws and the accounting world have drawn a completely separate set of rules for each, but the divide extends much further to commonly include separate recruiting and training channels, leadership practices, and fundraising strategies, among many other differences.
What are some of the costs to those who participate in each world? First, there is the issue of for-profit businesses often being solely data-driven, rational, logical, and seemingly devoid of heart and soul in pursuit of profits for owners and/or investors. No time for emotions, caring, or love here. Strip out costs, increase results, do it fast and cheap – or so it seems. People are often seen and treated as tools to be used to accomplish earnings and, in many cases, eliminated as soon as possible (the classic Wall Street stereotype).
On the other hand, people who choose a career, volunteer, or donate at significant levels in not-for-profits, engage in a world where feelings and commitment run high and the expectation of giving, giving and giving of time, money and more for minimal recompense are the norm. Job performance and measuring results are often blurred by arguments about caring and “doing what” is right.” Scarcity is the paradigm that dominates this world and often leads to burn-out for both employees and funding sources.
What if we took a different view of both worlds? It is becoming common knowledge that young people are demanding work that makes a difference and roles that count “in the big picture” of the venture. Maybe us older folks want that too and have been afraid to speak out or have been numbed by the relentlessness of competition. Some of our clients fantasize about becoming philanthropists or someday working for a non-profit where they can engage their hearts and souls after they retire. How about bringing that into work now? If you do, you will probably lose interest in retiring.
From the not-for-profit leaders, I hear the frustrations of employees seemingly avoiding measuring results and having accountability and constantly having to “suck up” to big money sources who like to throw their weight around. Committed donors often express funding exhaustion from seemingly endless requests. Employees are often expected to work for less and take on “impossible odds” with insufficient resources in the name of the cause, leading to “care giver syndrome” or burn out.
Regardless of which world you are starting in, are you willing to become a leader who builds a bridge to include the other paradigm? For the profit world, that means articulating a purpose for the business that engages heart and soul, both for yourself and all around you. Add making a difference to your “triple-bottom-line!” Bring your business perspective and knowledge to your favorite not-for-profit and bring your exploration listening to your interactions. Learn and take the knowledge back to your business. Assist the not-for-profit with measurement and accountability systems that don’t crush the spirit of the employees. Discover ways the not-for-profit can generate funds from its activities rather than simply relying on donations.
For you not-for-profit leaders, partner with business leaders in discovering opportunities for self-funding. Notice that your issues really are pretty much the same as those of your peers in the “business world” and learn from them. Bring your understanding of what moves people to action, whether they are volunteering or paid staff, to your business colleagues to strengthen their endeavors. Notice you make a profit too…you just call it increasing reserves.
The two worlds are really not as distinct and separate as they seem. Learning from each would be a significant contribution to both.