The shocking thing about the non-profit biz

Published 2009-05-27

The shocking thing about the non-profit biz is that we have to fight the same battles as for-profit businesses, but with both hands tied behind the back.

Imagine trying to run a business where you can’t compete with the competition (because our “competition” has the same noble goal of humanitarian assistance), you can’t cover your operating expenses from accts receivable (because the great majority of our income is legally dedicated to program expenses), and you can’t pay competitive wages (because some donors expect nonprofit employees’ motivations are better than mere money). Oh, and the people who give you money don't receive a product for it.

On the other hand, we actually have to compete for donors’ dollars in the same way for-profit business compete for sales; our offices still need heating and plumbing (which, sidebar: barely work here in our old HQ); and Mercy Corps CPAs or VPs or IT support staff (or, hell, receptionists) could just as easily get jobs for Intel or Dan and Louis Oyster Bar. Which would pay more. And have less constraints.

How long would such a business last?

Worth thinking about: this is pretty much the opposite of the way Google runs its business.

Please understand: I’m not complaining here. These are fair constraints with solid legal rationale, and every non-profit has to deal with them. But it irks me that some people seem to think nonprofits obey a different set of economic laws than other organizations.