Let’s Update Our (Nonprofit) Sector

As some of you may know, I have a problem with the term “Nonprofit Sector”.  On Friday June 7th, I attended the Saskatchewan Nonprofit Partnership (SNP) Conference in Saskatoon. And, yet again I couldn’t help talking the opportunity to vent my frustration with our classification.  As I have the space to share my opinions via this blog…. hold tight while I grab my soapbox!

The term Nonprofit Sector annoys me for many reasons.  Primarily, the term doesn’t adequately explain the philanthropic sector in Canada.  For example, not all charities are not-for-profits, and not all nonprofits are charities.  Where does Nonprofit leave foundations? If social enterprises and social impact bonds continue to increase, does Nonprofit Sector really encompass us all? Philanthropic Sector may more closely represent everyone, but would average people know what that means and who or what is included?

But my annoyance wit the term really has to do with this perpetual culture of “lack” within our sector or this injurious belief we can’t spend money.  We can’t sit on comfortable chairs – we are the nonprofit sector.  We can’t pay a living wage – we are the nonprofit sector. We can’t have new computers – we are the nonprofit sector.  We can’t get funding to pay the rent – we are the nonprofit sector.   And this belief is reinforced in public opinion, private donors, and funding agreements from government, public, and private grant-making organizations and foundations because many won’t give money for operational funds.

Does this happen in the business/private sector or the public sector? My brother is a VP for Condon Survey Group.  If they are looking to expand to another location, or expand a project, do they get to explore and fund the ENTIRE new operation? Does leadership estimate what rent, utilities, equipment, office supplies, staff wages and benefits, AND the expanded program costs might be? If he can look for the whole unit cost and seek investment, why can’t I as an organization in the nonprofit sector?

At the SNP summit I met a dedicated board member from the Saskatoon Mother’s Centre who told me “we can find money for our programs; it’s finding money to pay the rent that is incredibly difficult.” Unfortunately, too many people are facing the same situation.  And here is why… the Nonprofit Sector has allowed incorrect understanding of our services and the sector to continue.  That is why I advocate for a name change: We are the For-Public-Benefit Sector you must INVEST in us! In ALL parts of us!

Our core expenses and administrative costs are part of the investment needed for a program.  They are integrated not separate, and are required to keep programs sustainable.  We can start by changing how we communicate support for our organizations and program by informing donors and educating foundations core or administrative costs are vital to program sustainability.

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I for one, am tired of begging for money to keep the doors open, borrowing from one program to supplement another, and allowing mission drift to happen just to secure money.  It was a few years ago now during my graduate degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership from Carleton University that Rachel Pereira from Edmonton, Alberta suggested we move to the term For-Public-Benefit Sector.  At the SNP summit someone suggested the Social Profit Sector. Truth be told, I’m happy with either, but let’s move our sector forward in language and messaging to accurately reflect what we do.  Invest in all aspect of our work so that we can deliver social profits, and public benefits.

 

Author: Katie Schutz, Western Hub Coordinator

One Comment to “Let’s Update Our (Nonprofit) Sector”

  1. There was a recent article on charity village (https://charityvillage.com/cms/content/topic/charity_nonprofit_or_social_enterprise_a_primer_on_the_legal_definitions_that_govern_our_organizations#.XRKNMpNKjUI) that tugs on this similar thread…. but it focuses more on the legal definitions and social enterprises rise in the sector. Still very interesting.

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