Posted by & filed under Career Development, Leadership/Management, Marketing/Communications, Next Generation Philanthropy, Opinion.

Alan Clayton – Director, Clayton Burnett Ltd; Chairman, Revolutionise Global; Chairman, Grove Practice; Managing Partner, Inch Hotel and Inspiration Centre

Last week, I had the honour and pleasure of addressing the Young Nonprofit Professionals, Toronto. Young and professional they certainly were but, as I was preparing and then delivering my thoughts, something struck me. The majority of the audience worked in fundraising. Not all, but the audience was definitely fundraiser heavy, perhaps due to the topic, perhaps due to the influence of the sponsor – Stephen Thomas.

This really set me thinking. The term ‘nonprofit’ is used to describe the entire sector we work in – predominantly in North America, but increasingly in Europe as well. In context, this suddenly seemed an apologetic, inappropriate and perhaps even self-defeating term. The European ‘Third sector’ is scarcely any better. You see, the primary purpose and skill of most people in the room was the ability to generate profits… significantly large profits and at a very impressive margin compared to other sectors. The rest of the room were employed in spending said profits.

I had a realisation. We are the only sector which seeks to define itself by what we don’t do. Even more contradictory, we define ourselves by something we don’t do (nonprofit) but we do in fact actually do it. We invest reserves and revenue and we generate huge returns on these investments – up to twelve times greater than returns achieved by professional investors, in fact.

The difference in our sector is not the profits we make, but the way we choose to spend those profits. Profits with purpose, if you like. Is it any wonder we come in for ridiculous criticism (CEO salaries, ROI ratios, admin costs and even ~gasp~ paid fundraisers) if we ourselves start from such a negative and defensive position as ‘nonprofit’?

We should define ourselves by what we do… that is, how we spend the profits we make. That way we start from a positive hypothesis and can better explain our purpose to questioners and detractors. Even better, we will come to be proud of what we do.

Perhaps we could be the ‘For change sector’, the ‘Social purpose sector’ or even ‘The brilliant way to invest your money and get massive relative returns which make the world a better place sector.’

I am sure you can do better than that. Perhaps AFP could start a competition to find a better term? Suggestions welcome…

Alan Clayton

Alan Clayton is one of the leading consultants, creative directors and inspirational speakers on the world circuit, currently based in the UK, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Alan created charity marketing agency Cascaid in the UK in 1998 following a career working in-house in charity marketing. He ran Cascaid until 2008, when it merged to form The Good Agency. Alan has worked with over 250 nonprofit clients in the UK and around the world. 

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