Some days it’s not clear which is worse: using the term "nonprofit" to define our sector, or debating what we should be called instead. A recurring complaint in the sector is that "we shouldn’t be defined by what we are not." And of course, we can (and need to) make profits; it’s that we can’t distribute profits to the staff and board. Peter Drucker suggested the term "human change sector" because the mission of the sector and its organizations is to change lives, and more recently I’ve seen a little buzz around the term "Delta Sector," because we are the sector of change.
One problem is that the public recognizes a term that almost no one likes: "charity." In this graph that analyzesÂ the number of Google searches from 2005 to September 2009, you’ll see "charity" in red, "nonprofit" in blue, and "non-profit" in brown. As you can see, "charity" wins by a wide margin. Searches for "charity" peak at Christmas/end-of-year, with the exception of the 2005 spike at the time of Hurricane Katrina.
There was a short-lived Silicon Valley-based effort to call ourselves "public benefit corporations," and others have proposed "community benefit organizations." "Community-based organizations" Â (CBOs) used to mean nonprofits as we know them (for example, taking universities out of the mix), but has come to mean something narrower: human service nonprofits that have government contracts for services.Â
Maybe it would be harder to get us all lined up behind the same new term than it would be to live with the terms by which the public knows us. Or maybe instead of changing the name of our sector, we should just change the name of the OTHER sector: Instead of calling us the nonprofit sector and calling them the "for-profit sector," what if we called ourselves the community benefit sector, and called them the "non-community benefit sector"? 🙂
* In this issue you’ll find an insightful and compassionate article from Tim Wolfred written for executive directors: Six Ways to Know If It’s Time to Leave. We also welcome a First Person Nonprofit OpEd on pride, a Board Cafe column with an unusual board member "contract," and lastly, a 3-Minute Vacation to a Hair Salon.
P.S. I was just talking with the COO of a large national organization who commented on last issue’s article on Criminal Background Checks. She told me it was passed around her office and they found the article valuable, and found the reader comments just as valuable as the article! More reasons for you to join the discussions by posting Comments. –Jan Masaoka