I’ve been thinking a lot about how we charities and businesses interact and I’ve come to the conclusion that in the charitable sector we’re often treated as though we are in need of help.
This might seem like a strange proposition because charities do need ‘help’, but what I mean is that while the causes we are advocating for or people we are serving may need ‘help’ of sorts, just because we are charitable organisations doesn’t mean we are not well run, strategic or in desperate need of … help. And certainly not always from business.
Society has long held the assumption that there is a hierarchy of business and that hierarchy firmly places charitable organisations at the bottom of the heap. We’re set up to believe that business has something to offer to charities, but have you ever thought we (charities) could ever offer something to business? We might not always hold Masters’ degrees in Management and our salary might only be a quarter of your own but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the skill or know how in how to “BUSINESS” our organisations.
One of my go-to philanthropic-entrepreneurial minds I want to absorb on a daily basis is Dan Pallotta. In one of the first Ted Talks of his I discovered he challenges to change the way we think about charity. Pallotta suggests that society has two rule books one for charities/not-for-profit sector and one for the rest of the economic world. Basically Pallotta highlights the disparities between the charity sector and the rest of the economic world that makes it impossible for charities to grow their piece of the pie.
The truth is charities work tirelessly to build the best relationships and just like you in the business world, we don’t always get it right, we miss the mark, projects fail … but for some reason we owe it to you and society to not fail. And perhaps that is because much of our funding is sourced philanthropically – but how do you think we get that? We work for it!
Charities should and do invest, just like business, in getting our message (cue: product) out there. We build relationships with our supporters (cue: customers) who want the opportunity to give (cue: buy) to a cause (cue: product) based on their inner most desires (cue: needs/wants).
We do this in order to solve the world’s wicked problems, and we invest because we know you care and given the opportunity you would want to give to help! We need all players in the game to succeed. But charities, unlike business, are not given licence to fail or even spend on overheads or advertising.
A Figure NZ graph shows that approximately 30% of businesses established in 2007 survived to 2015 and showed downward trends right from birth of the enterprise in whatever year they started. We have a culture of start-ups and entrepreneurship which is a marvellously wonderful thing that helps us learn and grow professionally, personally and economically, but many of these start-ups either never take-off or will eventually fail.
I don’t want to suggest that all business is a failure if it doesn’t succeed. Not in the literal sense anyway because it’s important that we have these learnings to build on and use as platform for future success. But why are we OK with this type of success/failure in the business sector but have an eagle eye on the way charities spend money to bring about social change? Business, enterprise, and particularly corporates are not the only players in the game of building a successful, strategic and engaging business (cause) that has many customers (supporters). Charities can too, and they do it well.