Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For-profit managers in the nonprofit world

We're in a recession--a really bad recession. That means there will be a bunch of managers from the for-profit world deciding to "make a life change" or "do something meaningful." They want to work for (in some cases only volunteer for) nonprofit organizations. They want to show nonprofits how to be highly efficient organizations. They want to fix the management of nonprofits. They want to fix our failing social infrastructure. (They want to pad their resume with what they expect to be an easy win.)

It is my prediction that we are going to see a number of very good nonprofit organizations run into the ground by these for-profit geniuses. The nonprofit world is different.
  • Most employees work for the love of their jobs--not for high salaries (although getting paid what they are worth would be a welcome change).
  • Try managing volunteers if you want a challenge.
  • You think investors and banks are hard to deal with? Try working with corporate and family foundations as well as banks and large private donors (we do probably share the same horror stories about government contracts/funding).
  • There are dual bottom lines--the financial side and the mission side.
  • Financial accounting standards and tax laws are different (not better or worse--just different)
  • You probably can't raise your fees--your clients usually have no money. (and in the case of theaters and museums--do you really want to price out the people who can't afford it?).
  • We all work long hours for little pay (and no bonuses) (and no personal assistant or free gym memberships)
  • We don't worship MBAs. We don't even worship people with masters degrees in nonprofit management--but they at least know something about the industry.
I'm not going to go on because I just saw a great article about this in main stream (well, sort of) business magazine--Fast Company. Nancy Lablin of Dress for Success and Do Something has a great column--"No Vacancy: Job-seeking refugees from the for-profit world shouldn't go running to the not-for-profit sector." (And she isn't quite as cynical as I am)


Slee said...

Hi Sheldon,
I just read the Fast Company article and had to chuckle. How true her words, and yours, ring. I remember when I worked at legal aid interviewing candidates for jobs in our office who wanted to come from the for-profit sector. They figured they could roll on in. The interviews made it very clear how unprepared many were for the kind of work we were doing. While I think that there are many for-profit folks who can successfully transition, and vice versa, there are true challenges. For myself, making the transition to some for-profit environments, the cultural shift was quite intense for me -- I was not used to the hierarchical structure that seemd more entrenched in the for-profit sector.
-Lee Scholder

Anonymous said...

Absolutely true, Sheldon. Right on!!