There has been a lot of talk lately about the organizational challenges of nonprofits, especially around the TED Talk of Dan Pallotta. Nate St. Pierre, a web marketer and consultant, cites Pallotta and adds his own voice to the discussion, in a blog post about why he will never work at a nonprofit organization:
Whenever I entertain the thought of joining up with a nonprofit, it takes about three seconds for my mind to come back with the biggest reason it’s never going to work (all my friends in the sector may want to cover their eyes for this part): most nonprofits are risk-averse, small-minded organizations, and always will be. I see this problem as being equal parts the organization itself and equal parts society’s view of what a nonprofit should be.
I literally cannot work in an environment that stays conservative and fears failure. My nature is to do creative, original things that have never been done before, and this naturally carries with it a high potential for failure. I’m not gonna lie, I fail a lot. I just do. But it’s all part of the game, and every time I fail, I learn something valuable from it and come back bigger, better and stronger. I also hit some home runs along the way, and over time I end up raising the bar for just about everyone. That’s how my skill set works.
If I were to bring this mentality and work style to a nonprofit, odds are I would quit or be fired within six months. Probably both. If you’re worried about creating goals that are easily identifiable and easily accomplished within a set of parameters, or worse, if you’re concerned with looking bad to the general public if you don’t do these things in a certain way, then I can’t work for you. Because I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen when I come up with something completely unorthodox and release it out into the wild. And what’s more, I don’t want to know what will happen. I want to see some beautiful chaos at first, and then out of that we can pull whatever gem might emerge. These two approaches don’t play nicely together, and it quickly becomes a bad fit for both sides.
As someone who is interested in how nonprofits leverage (or often, don’t leverage) new social media tools, I can see where St. Pierre is coming from. Luckily, not everyone is like that and we are seeing more nonprofits take risks.
What organizations do you see that are taking risks and working to enact change? What can we learn from them to affect the nonprofit sector overall?