Monday, October 04, 2010

A Non-Profit world

October 3, 2010
The Non-Profit world

I guess my first exposure to non-profit organizations was back in 1972 when Fr. Dennis Dwyer brought me on board for the Catholic Youth Services’ The Original Scene. With The Original Scene I performed in Heaven Help Us!, Oliver!, The Sound Of Music, The Music Man, George M! and a number of showcases called “Bits ‘o Broadway.” In all I was with The Original Scene from 1972 to 1981.

Since 2007, I’ve been involved with the Littleton Community Music Association. Consisting of a number of bands, including The Skylarks Octet, The Windjammers Jazz Orchestra, the Rootin’ Tootin’s Dixieland Band and most recently, Sock Hop! 50’s and 60’s band, it is dedicated to bringing musical opportunities to the citizens of Littleton and the surrounding areas. Alternating monthly, regular performances are scheduled at the Buck Recreation Center and Lone Tree Recreation Center. With LCMA, I have been a vocalist, roadie, office worker, marketing specialist, and general helper.

Before that, between 2000 and 2006, I was associated with Magic Moments of Colorado. In 2000, 2001, and 2002 I served as volunteer vocalist and then, in 2003 joined the board of directors – a position I held for two years.

And previously still, since 1990, I have performed for Angels Unaware, countless senior- and retirement-homes, charities, and given yearly shows for the North Metro Community Association.

Therefore (especially since 2000) I have had a great deal of experience with not-for-profits. I love them, I love working with them, and I love what they do! They are a wonderful, caring, selfless, and deeply devoted segment of our culture. Yet they hold a somewhat “otherworldly” and unrealistic view of the world… a slightly nieve and absolute view of the world totally disconnected from the ‘real’ world.

These are organizations that survive entirely on the generosity of others. Therefore they have an utterly skewed look at the world, the people outside their realm, and the concept of compensation in general. Since they don’t earn, but rather solicit, for their funds, they make no connection between quality of work and payment. They collect their donations either way, so there is no motive towards excellence or growth that a competitive environment would demand.

In a non-profit, there is no measurable import in anything, anything other than the organization’s goal. For this reason, little appreciation is placed in quality – what does it matter how good the product or the extent of effort as long as the true purpose (of collecting and distributing funds) is accomplished? Unprofessionalism, lack of talent, ability, or effort are discounted as long as the grants and donations keep coming in. Even less is expected as far as efficiency or accountability. And above all, compensation – bluntly, pay, income, cash is almost seen as dirty, nasty, and perverted. Non-profit workers are made to feel as if their talents, their sweat, and their hard work are to be given for free. How dare they expect to be compensated for what they have given! Again, the ends are of sole importance, not the workers or their industry.

The purpose of a non-profit is to be generous, specifically, to be generous with other peoples’ money. In this sense, non-profits are the quintessential liberal organ. The ends is all-important, the people are a tool for achieving those ends, and the volunteers should be satisfied – not with any compensation or appreciation – but with the fact that they are ‘being charitable.’ Often the volunteers willingly take on the hardships, the lack of appreciation and wear it as a badge of proud martyrdom.

But, the point is, that when funds are given out of generosity, rather than in exchange for services rendered, those services will forever be lacking. Those that work hard will be patted on the head, told, ‘your contributions are so appreciated’ and left to be satisfied only in their own sense of generosity and pride. Meanwhile, many others will expend the least possible effort, knowing their sub-standard performance will not be in any way penalized. After all, they are so kind for just showing up and helping the cause!

Unlike the real world, the non-profit realm is one void of consequence, unaware of the connection between hard work and increased rewards. It is one that expects everything – from the grants that are their lifeblood to the long hours of their volunteers. Entitlement and assumptions are at the very core of a non-profits’ very being.

Wow! As I’m reading over this, it sounds much more upset and passionate than I intended. I’m neither angry nor vengeful as I’m sitting here… these are just some absolute truths I have observed over the last five-to-ten years.

It’s not that non-profits or those that lead them don’t care about their volunteers; they are kind and friendly towards their subordinates overall… but in no case is an individual volunteer or worker anywhere near as important as the cause, and this is reflected in the priorities.

We now have a community organizer at the head of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. He rules along with a Congress that acts as though the United States Government is the only important charitable group out there. And the mindset of Washington is veering strikingly towards that I have witnessed in typical non-profits.

Both collect funds, and don’t earn them per se.
Both are ‘ends-focused’
Both feel competition and compensation are at best unfortunate necessities, and at worst evil.
Both give a sense of offense if results or returns on investment are demanded.
Both snub competition and competitive spirit (outside the upper tiers of organizers, you will never hear comparisons with other similar non-profits)
Both consider their base (volunteers / voters) as not too much more than the means to their ends.
Think of Air America… which was also run in the style and efficiency of a non-profit… had the same unrealistic expectations of free money (grants) and return on investment.

But perhaps this is just applicable to small and medium-tier non-profits. It would make sense that successful, large-scale non-profits (American Red Cross, Amnesty International, Greenpeace….) have adopted much more business-centered tactics and structures. Certainly, we’ve heard of the Non-Profit CEO’s with incomes in the millions of dollars as well as the ENRON-like financial scandals many of them have been involved with.

So, dang it! This went somewhere I didn’t expect it to go… The federal government isn’t being run like a non-profit… it’s being run like an amateur non-profit!

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