Monday, August 04, 2008

What's in a name? Nonprofit? Community Benefit Organization? Independent Sector?

What’s in a name? Lately I have heard a number of leaders in the nonprofit sector take exception to the word “nonprofit.” Linda Czipo, Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofits in New Jersey, talks about the contribution of our sector to NJ’s economy and the need to portray a stronger image that reflects who we are and what we do. She says that we are the only group that defines ourselves by what we do not do rather than what we do do.

Hildy Gottlieb, a leading edge nonprofit consultant and author, says, “Community Benefit is why our organizations are granted tax exemption. Community benefit is what we do. It is our purpose.” She recommends renaming nonprofits community benefit organizations.

The organization dedicated to being a resource and forum on issues for “nonprofits” boldly calls itself Independent Sector. The Annie E. Casey Foundation writes extensively about community building and as a foundation to making the kind of change in people’s lives that nonprofits strive for. I was especially proud of my son when he received an award from a nonprofit called the Community Builder Award for his Eagle Scout project in which he provided 200 sleeping bags for inner city children to take to summer camp.

Guy Kawasaki of Apple fame (It used to be Apple Computer but they changed their name to Apple) has a great blog. Once a revered Apple Fellow, he is now a self described “venture capitalist and democratizer of information.” Many of his philosophies aimed at invigorating the techie business are applicable to nonprofits to. Straight from a Guy Kawasaki blog post entitled “The Art of Creating a Community” here are a few basic bits of advice:

•Create something worth building a community around.
•Welcome criticism.
•Foster discourse.
•Publicize the existence of the community

This is all something to think about in how we describe ourselves – our talks, website and written materials. Are we really “Nonprofits in the Nonprofit Sector” or are you a “Community Benefit Organization in the Independent Sector.” You can’t change the common name of a whole sector overnight, but I think it is a great idea to begin to introduce these more positive images into how we describe ourselves.

This post is inspired by Hildy Gottlieb’s recent newsletter. Her website is chockfull of free resources and you can read her recent article on this subject here too. Hildy also has books and other resources she has developed for sale on her site.
Hildy Gottlieb's Website

Marion Conway Consulting

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