Today, the nonprofit sector is one of the fastest-growing areas of the economy. It is doing more and more of what the government used to do in social services, healthcare, education and culture. Along with the growth in this sector, there comes a greater need for leadership over bigger and more complicated enterprises. If nonprofit organizations are not performing efficiently, it affects our whole economy.
Nonprofit leaders have the same accountability to “stretch a dollar” as their corporate counterparts. We’re seeing a great deal more sophistication in how nonprofits operate and how they relate to the board and their constituents. Accountability is strong and forceful, and the media is playing a vital role in making sure nonprofits are accountable and transparent to stakeholders.
Another change we’re seeing in nonprofits is that wealth is no longer available to the same degree as in the past. Increasingly, there is more dependence on operating income rather than philanthropy. The skills required for growing capital on the inside are different from those you need for raising capital on the outside. This shift will transform nonprofits, because they now must be self-sustaining and enterprising.
I recently had the opportunity to work with Betsy Poirier ’08 at the Norman Rockwell Museum as part of the School’s Nonprofit Board Leadership Program. She brought a whole new level of expertise in how to commercially position the museum store on the Internet. Betsy’s experience exposed a real gap between the skill sets Columbia Business School students have and what most museums can attract and compensate.
How do nonprofits close that gap and attract that kind of talent? For starters, nonprofits need to offer compensation and benefits that can compete with for-profit organizations. They must also consider where they need talent. Do they need it at the operating level if it exists at the board level? The need for talent is acute at both levels, especially as demands on board members increase.
One solution to think about is to consolidate nonprofits under “umbrella” organizations. Perhaps several affinity organizations could operate within a “holding company” with administrative, IT and marketing services to better share limited talent and expertise. Nonprofits need to start thinking about what we can do collaboratively, given shrinking community resources. Nonprofits can use economies of scale to access leadership capital. They can also be more businesslike by creating growth paths and sharing corporate overhead and expertise. Community stakeholders will benefit as more output is gained from limited resources. In 10 years, we will not recognize the not-for-profit landscape as it enters the post-2008 world of economics.
Photo credit: Columbia Business School