We hate wind. Anything above 40 MPH, and we’re filled with anxiety every time a house moves and you can hear the trees shake. There is nothing like being in your home when a tree comes down. It’s just never the same. Wind has become an evil omen: the stranger in ‘Something Wicked this Way Comes,’ filling the town with a sense that something is not quite right.
The nonprofit ceiling is located slightly north of where your experience meets your intuition. We’ve been around long enough to understand boards, executive directors, presidents, development directors, donors, program staff and all of the many key ingredients that make a nonprofit business. We had high hopes in the early run of the 21st century. Funding was at an all-time high and the field was just beginning to professionalize. There was hope that nonprofits finally had the staffing and resources to save Gotham, Central City, snuggly wolves… whatever the cause… there was hope. And then came the wind.
It seemed refreshing at first.
Anyone that has lived through the damage wrought by Mother Nature can relate to that primal fear of the wind. But the worst part is that we didn’t fear the wind at one point in our lives. We started out with a joie de vivre. We are invincible after all. We are Captain America or Aquaman (hey, he was cool… he was the King of Atlantis after all). We ride our bike with no helmets. We eat PopRocks with a can of coke. But, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.”
For us, the nonprofit world changed in 2008.
It went from being a fearless, collaborative call to action to change the world, to an injured and scared animal, recoiling from the kindly old couple that stops their Prius on the side of the road to help. We have no fight left for our respective missions, because the nonprofit industry, by design, has become the enemy. We are under siege when there is a call for “Disruption.” We are defeated when we are tasked with “Sustainability.” We are spurned when we are dismissed as unfundable “Overheard.”
The wind changed and the for-profit world moved in. They liked us at first, but they didn’t quite trust us. We didn’t look, sound or feel like a business. They reasoned they could do better, be more efficient, measure accountability, and make the field bend to the collective will of the for-profit construct.
There is one universal truth that existed before 2008, but became magnified thereafter when charitable giving fell precipitously by 20% and investment funds that fueled nonprofit endowments fell twice that amount. People got scared. The for-profits said they could help. The nonprofit truth changed from mission to Money.
Of course, two veteran nonprofit warriors like us, trained by the best sellswords in Braavos, aren’t turned off by the accountability component of Money, or more specifically, having to raise it.
But that’s not what changed.
This industry used to be based upon relationships with contributors, staff and the community. Nonprofits were always about Impact, until the word turned into an NC-17 version of itself: a deranged, intractable concept that is fiercely wielded to measure the value of everything from a child stepping onto a stage to perform his/her poetry to the value of primary healthcare for a homeless family. Impact is no longer defined by the community that creates it. Today, nonprofits and their decision makers, afraid of what followed the wind of 2008, make decisions based solely on Money. How to find it? How to keep it? How to spend it? How to hold people accountable for it? How many people are benefiting from it? How can I give you the least amount of money to make the most Impact? And that ladies and gentleman, is called a Transaction. You know… a card swipe paradigm. Do you have a deep, meaningful relationship with your Credit Card? Your Square Reader?
It is also an external marker that no longer relies on the community for value. The community no longer has a voice. Impact, sustainability, overheard, accountability… these are all terms that involve outputs for external sources. Our nonprofits are no longer our own. We exist when we can be counted, measured, defined, and otherwise expressed on a spreadsheet.
There is no soul in a transaction or a measurement. You don’t have to believe in God, Yahweh, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to understand what a soul is. And no, we’re not talking about the James Brown version, although that’s close. Soul is a sunrise on a clear morning with the waves rolling in 4′-5′ and glassy, and you’re the first surfer in the lineup. Soul is paddling on both sides of the boat so we all go forward instead of in a circle. Soul is running along a country road at 5am as downy snow falls gently, silently. We all have our own version. We also know that a mission, like a soul, is not a transaction.
It is in this new reality that we, two veteran nonprofit warriors, looked at the battlefield and realized that The Battle of Thermopylae is upon us, and there wasn’t an army of 300 at our sides. As we called upon our fellow warriors to join us, we realized that although many felt as we do, they were just too scared to stand before the sacred cows of the nonprofit world and scream, “This is Sparta!” Relax. We’re not trying to enlist you. We’re happy to rush once more into the breach. We make a great fire team. We just figured someone, maybe at least 6 people, would be mildly interested in the stories, fabrications and otherwise dark and sometimes playful musings of two fundraisers still waiting for their mission without an army.
– Sarah and Jon