Saturday, March 19, 2011

For Profit Best Practice or Charitable Frivolity?

The last couple of weeks I’ve been pondering a simple question: are all for profit sector “best practices” applicable to the charitable sector? What has spurred my musings has been the recent case where Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has been vilified for some of their spending on celebrating successes and team motivation.

I’m not going to defend any of TCHC’s spending habits (many seem to be rightly questionable and needing of better controls), and I’m very clear TCHC isn’t a charity in most aspects. However, one thing they did do as a public agency is something charities have been dabbling in, and they’ve received a lot of heat for it.

What I’m talking about is their following of a for-profit best practice of giving employees morale-building holiday parties and modest incentive gifts. In the Consumer Packaged Goods world where I grew up there are (to this day) major “Sales Conferences” where big bucks are spent to motivate the troops. And the level of “team building” only gets more expensive and crazy in the Pharmaceutical world… Pick your sector, most every for-profit organization spends money on celebrating with (and thereby building or motivating) the team

You might argue that this spending is wasted or misguided, and you might be right. But for profit companies large and small keep doing it, so surely there must be some payback or rationale for the spending? And would that rationale/benefit apply to the charitable world?

You might argue that it really is only done for the sales team. Maybe, but then would that apply to only the Fundraisers on the charitable side receiving the same motivation?

For once I don’t have an answer. But what is clear is that charities that seek to motivate or team-build using the same best practices as their for-profit peers do so at their peril.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Barbarians at the Gates

Imagine you’ve spent the last 10 or 20 years working very hard in your role, delivering great results with extremely limited resources, and someone who’s never even worked in your sector comes along saying, "move over, I’ve arrived to fix what you’ve been doing." You might be just a little put-out and resistant, no?

Sadly, that can be the unspoken attitude from some folks in the for-profit world as they explore career opportunities in the charitable world.

Or imagine you’re the same hard-working charitable leader, and applicants say, "I’ve reached a stage in my life where I’m thinking of retiring, but first I think I’d actually like to give back." Is that code for:
  • I’ve made my money (all while you were making much less), so now that I’m at a stage where I can afford to make less money, I’d like your job?
  • I’m ready to slow down (but not fully retire) so now I’d like to come and work in your sleepy little world?

Of course it’s not usually code for either message, but can you imagine how your charitable audience might infer these messages?

There are plenty of horror stories in the charitable sector about for-profit folks who simply don’t fit, or fail for any number of other legitimate reasons, but it does fuel fears about why "outsiders" just don’t "get" the sector.

All this to say that if you’ve heard that breaking into the charitable world can be tough, there are both real historical reasons (e.g. previous failures) and perceptual reasons (e.g. attitude for joining the sector) that exist for resistance. And also to say that for many reasons the charitable world really needs the talents, new blood and passion "outsiders" bring.

Just bear in mind that if you’re one of those "outsiders" eager to get inside the charitable world, do think carefully about your motivations and your messaging, or you’ll be treated like a barbarian at the gate.