Often, and nauseatingly, the nonprofit sector is told to be more like the business sector. From admonishments to be more cost-effective, more innovative, more data driven, it is a common refrain — essentially we are saying “Nonprofit sector, be smart like businesses.”
I have often argued against this very limited and patronizing view of the nonprofit sector, as have many others including, most recently, Phil Buchanan in his new book Giving Done Right.
Because the truth is that while the business sector has brought us many positive things, it has also given us some pretty challenging social problems (wealth inequality, pollution, the opioid crisis to name a few) — mistakes that the nonprofit sector is often charged with cleaning up.
And the nonprofit sector willingly takes on this cleanup because what the nonprofit sector has in spades is kindness. The kindness of taking care of your fellow man, the kindness of including those who have been left out, the kindness of lifting up those who have less, the kindness of believing that we can do better.
But the problem arises when that kindness is untempered. Nonprofit leaders get into trouble when they are in fact too kind. A nonprofit leader might be too kind to stand up to a distracting funder, or too kind to ask more of her board members, or too kind to demand more money for the services her organization is delivering, or too kind to help policymakers understand how they are exacerbating problems, or too kind to demand that the nonprofit sector receive the level of support that cleanups truly warrant.
So, we don’t want the nonprofit sector to be too much like business, but we also don’t want the sector to be too kind. Perhaps there is a middle ground — a place in which nonprofit leaders and their work still offer the kindness that our world so desperately needs, but in a savvy way. Perhaps the answer is a new breed of savvy kindness.
Savvy kindness is providing solutions to social problems in a smart, strategic and sustainable way.
Savvy kindness is things like:
- Combining the desire to grow your nonprofit’s work to meet growing demand with a compelling strategy and sustainable financial model to do so in a long-lasting way.
- Recognizing when a funder is pushing you in errant directions and articulating exactly what they could do to get you both closer to the social change you both seek.
- Acknowledging when board members aren’t stepping up that they are doing so because of fear or overwhelm and shrewdly giving them the training, confidence, and space they need to be helpful in an efficient way.
- Understanding how larger policies might impact your work and crafting ways to connect with policymakers and influencers in ways that align their needs with your social change goals.
- Admitting when you as a leader are worn out, fed up, or ticked off and smartly tapping into networks of peers, influencers, friends to share the burden.
Savvy Kindness is marrying what is most valuable and needed about the nonprofit sector — compassion, inclusion, care — with smart, sustainable strategy that will enable that kindness to thrive and spread.
Perhaps in embracing savvy kindness we won’t just realize a more savvy nonprofit sector, but also a kinder business sector.
If you want to learn more about how I help nonprofits move toward savvy kindness, let me know.
Photo Credit: Austin Pacheco