The Two Tremendous Advantages NPOs Have Over Business

Non-profit organizations of all types typically have two advantages over for-profit competitors: trust and data.

NPOs are trusted more than businesses quite often. The trust comes from being a mission-focused organization as well as knowing that profits are reinvested to support the mission rather than paid out to owners or shareholders.

Many organizations also have a tremendous amount of data about their market already on hand. You know who the big givers are, you know who is in your profession, you know who comes to more meetings and events than others. This data is priceless.

Businesses would give a lot to have the same advantages.

Use the trust you have been given to offer value to your members, volunteers, donors, and others. Use that data to make highly relevant offers and communications to these same people.

Fulfilling your mission as an NPO doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. Embrace your advantages! Put them to work. You owe it to your mission and your constituents.

Lessons on Entrepreneurship from the 1940s

The first story I always tell about my grandfather, J.D. Gammel, Sr., is one of entrepreneurship.

As the story goes, JD Senior had started a small appliance store in the early 1940s and had a number electric ice boxes he was trying to sell. He lived in Western Kentucky which was in the midst of significant change as the Rural Electrification Administration set up electric cooperatives that ran wires out like spokes from a hub as TVA built hydro-electric dams across the middle of the U.S.

Granddad would load a few electric ice boxes into the back of his pickup truck and follow the newly strung lines out into the countryside. He would stop at a modest farmhouse and ask if the man of the house was about. (Early 40s, remember!) If so, they would shoot the breeze for quite some time until finally the farmer would ask what he had in the pickup truck. The farmer, who was using electricity to light a bulb or two in his home, if that, was always skeptical. “We don’t need an electric ice box! Our root cellar has worked for my family for as long as I can remember.”

Granddad would admit as to how that was true but offered to leave one of his boxes on the farmer’s front porch for a week at no cost and with no obligation. He would come back and take it away if they didn’t want it. Novelty usually won out and he would leave with one less ice box in his pickup truck.

As you might foresee, while the farmer thought the root cellar was fine his wife had a very different idea once they had had the electric box in place. No mess, fresh cold milk, ice on demand, less spoiled food, and so on.

Granddad would come by the next week and the farmer would come out and arrange a plan to pay him for the new electric ice box. Every single time. As the old saying goes, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Some thoughts to consider for your organization:

  • What electrical lines can you follow to discover new markets and customers?
  • Who is the true buyer for what you are offering?
  • Are you taking the time to build a relationship with your best prospects before going for the sale?
  • How can you let your prospective customer, member, or volunteer experience what you have to offer before they have to buy?

Big thank you to my dad, the little guy in the picture above, for helping with the details of the story and to my sister Lisa for providing the scanned photo.

Link of the Week: Why an RFP May Guarantee You Don't See the Best of the Best

Tom Searcy shares in this post an experience where he advised a client to decline a request for proposal.

When looking for a new vendor or partner of some sort, everyone says they want the best possible partner for their goals given what they have to invest. Yet, too many requests for proposal appear designed to actually push those companies away. They are overly prescriptive, include pages of legalese, and ask irrelevant questions. Send it to too many firms and the best will drop out simply because the percentages aren’t in it.

The best, healthiest, companies have criteria for which prospects they want to pursue. Especially for a growing company, bad business is often worse than no business. Check out Tom’s post and some of the links he shares to get a sense of how the other side of the table approaches this.

A poorly designed or overly distributed RFP is unlikely to draw the best candidates. You may be left sorting the chaff while the wheat goes looking for a better baker!

Goals That Matter

My very first job when I moved to Washington DC in the early 90s was as a temp mailing sugar propaganda to schools across the country.

The goal of the organization at the time was to promote the health benefits of natural sugar. While I found the idea of mailing sugar information to schools pretty amusing, especially the Spanish-language version titled “El Diente,” it wasn’t a goal I cared about at all. I actually felt somewhat guilty about it. Combined with the mind-numbing work, it was hard to stay motivated and I did precisely what was expected of me and no more.

(I’m experiencing karmic payback now that I have two young children who love sugar!)

My next temp gig was filing paper event registration forms for an organization that helped companies relocate their employees more effectively. There was an international component to this, which I was very interested in since I had studied abroad in high school and college. The goal of relocation is to move people efficiently but also to do so in a way that enabled the employee to become effective in the job as soon as possible. Much of this work actually focuses on supporting their family more than the employee.

This was something that I could get behind. I had personal experience with it and knew how valuable it was to people uprooting their lives to move across the world.

It was a goal that mattered to me. I worked hard, was offered a permanent position and spent the next seven years moving through a half-dozen positions of increasing responsibility, constantly pushing to create new ways to achieve that goal.

What a difference a goal that mattered made to my career. I’m still exploring the path that those seven years opened up for me.

This is why goals that matter are critical if you want to be an orgpreneur. You need an evil plan. You need goals that will make you fail on the way to success.

You will actually harm your career if you take a job somewhere that does not pursue a goal that matters to you in some fashion. You will languish. You will not make exciting things happen.

Nothing other than a goal that matters will maintain your motivation and energy consistently over time.

You need a goal that matters. If you don’t have one, make one. Or find someone who has one you can get behind and work with them.

Life is short! Go for it.

Orgpreneurs Ship

One of my favorite lines about strategy is that it doesn’t fail on the white board. Your new product won’t ship from the white board either.

One of several things I like about Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, is his focus on shipping product. Nothing really matters if you don’t ship. So many things can get in the way of moving that new product out the door if we lose focus, lose discipline, allow ourselves to be distracted. Seth’s message is that linchpins ship.

So do orgpreneurs.

Link of the Week: Interview with Steve Denning by Seth Kahan

I really liked this mini-interview with Steve Denning about how to create dramatic change without budget or authority. The interview is part of Seth Kahan’s up-coming book, Getting Change Right.

One of key comments by Steve is that he felt his knowledge initiative at the World Bank was better off starting out starved for resources. They had to prove the value of it and as they did so they found the resources they needed.

Being hungry can be a boon rather than an obstacle.

Columnist Looking for a Source

Mildred Culp, a syndicated columnist, is looking for people who are doing something new on the job other than social media. Full query and contact e-mail are:

Are you trying something new at work? WorkWise needs employees who are trying something that doesn’t involve software or social media. If you’re a business owner, pitch your employee. If you’re a publicist, please pitch a client. WorkWise is syndicated from The Miami Herald to Modesto (CA) Bee. It uncovers emerging trends in the workplace.
Contact Mildred with your story at
Mildred has interviewed me in the past and her column would be a great place to tell your entrepreneurship story.

Earn Your Salary

Start something new in the next month that will cover your salary for the year. Even if you have already generated more than enough profit to pay for yourself this year, do it again.

Here is the challenge: come up with a new product, service, offering, or fund raising campaign that meets an emerging need of your core market and see how fast you can rack up enough new profit to pay for yourself.

Another alternative: devise new marketing and see if you can “sell out” an existing product or service, generating enough new profit to cover your organization’s investment in you for the year.

Want to take this to the next level? Do the same thing for your entire team.

Why is this important, beyond the obvious? If you can do this each year as your first personal project then you will rarely have to look for a new job unless it is your choice to do so. If you can get in the habit of creating new ideas and marketing and getting them out there quicker than ever before, you will get better at doing it.

Approach your work as a challenge to generate much more value than you are paid rather than just fulfilling your job description. This is empowering for you.

Big Shots Who Failed Big Time

Failure is key part of entrepreneurship. As my mentor, Alan Weiss says, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

This article in the Wall Street Journal points out some rather well known, successful, people who failed right out of high school by not getting into their choice of college. Warren Buffet, Tom Brokaw, Ted Turner, Scott McNealy, the list goes on. A comment from Mr. Buffett:

“The truth is, everything that has happened in my life…that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better,” Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach “lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn’t have been a good fit. But at the time, he “had this feeling of dread” after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

You are in excellent company when you fail at something. No failure, no progress.

Why Not My Job?

This is a great question that orgpreneurs ask of themselves all the time. They see an opportunity to fill a gap or create something new and think, “Why not my job?”

Why not make it part of what you do?

Why not suggest the new program and then embrace making it happen when you get the green light? Or just go for it and scrounge the resources?

If you don’t, then you fall into thinking ‘not my job’ instead, which is deadly to your career, organization and, ultimately, your mission.

In my experience working with associations and non-profits, the people whose job descriptions are always playing catch up are the true orgpreneurs. They don’t let their job description limit what they will tackle in order to pursue a goal that matters. The job description of these staff shows where they were, not where they will be.

Next time you face a challenge or an opportunity, try thinking ‘why not my job’ and see where it takes you.