By Todd Cohen
Nonprofits have taken a bad rap for way too long, and they need to be much more aggressive about telling their story.
The latest blow is new research that says their nonprofit status makes them seem less than competent.
And that perception makes people less likely to “buy” the products and services nonprofits provide, say researchers at Stanford University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Pennsylvania.
However unfair those findings may seem to a sector that continually is asked to do more with less, they reflect a much deeper problem for nonprofits.
They are overworked, underpaid, taken for granted, and expected to work miracles cleaning up our messiest social and global problems.
Despite the obstacles they face and the resources they lack, nonprofits still manage to employ people who are smart, work hard and care about making a difference.
Yet too few nonprofit boards have even a clue their job is to set a vision for the organization, and to help strengthen it and raise money to help it run and grow.
And while nonprofits urgently need funds to support their operations and build their capacity, many charitable foundations and corporate-giving programs prefer to support their own pet programs and projects, and they expect nonprofits to invest time and money they cannot afford tracking their impact and effectiveness.
As the icing on their cake, nonprofits also are expected to take a vow of poverty, with the media and other disengaged critics quick to raise a stink if nonprofit professionals actually get pay and compensation that even begins to value their work and worth.
And now they are told their very status as nonprofits makes them seem less than competent.
While they struggle to keep on keeping on, nonprofits also need to start speaking up and making clear who they are, what they do, their impact and their needs.
Instead of groveling to funders and givers, nonprofits need to act as equal partners in working to engage their supporters.
And instead of trying to parrot the technical and philanthropically-correct jargon of funders, trade groups and consultants, nonprofits need to be clear, passionate and authentic in telling their stories, and using the forms of media best suited to reach the audiences they need to reach.
Nonprofits are heroes, not unskilled hired help, and they need to start owning their role and championing their worth.