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civic sector

How do you know you’re making a difference?

This was a major topic of discussion in the hallways and at lunch at the Washington Nonprofit Conference last Wednesday. The spark for these conversations was the keynote address from the 2 women who wrote “Forces for Good: the Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits.” Crutchfield and McLeod were greatly influenced by Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” and followed a similar research methodology.

What had us talking was what they didn’t say, however. They began by saying that they only considered nonprofits with a national scope and a large ($10 million or more) budget for the study. We wondered: Why are national scope and a large budget prerequisites for impact? The consensus was, they’re not prerequisites, and that McLeod and Crutchfield should have qualified their research upfront with this caveat.

My question for you: how do you know you’re making a difference, either as a person or as an organization? I’m especially interested in how you qualitatively instead of quantitatively know you’re having an impact.

At the same conference. I co-presented a workshop about coaching called “Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders: Investing in your Organization’s Biggest Asset.” Our group of 35 or so had some fascinating discussions about what coaching is and isn’t and when it’s most useful. Here is the handout about coaching as a capacity-building tool and here for resources for nonprofit leaders seeking coaching. You can also find more resources about leadership in the nonprofit sector here.

Why I don’t like the term “non profit”

  • It starts with a negative
  • It refers to tax status as opposed to purpose
  • It implies penury
  • It doesn’t include businesses that were founded with a social mission, which are increasingly important in our efforts to create meaningful and sustainable change on a global scale
  • It doesn’t include government agencies with a focused mission, which are also important to social change
  • It’s just plain old school

For a while now I’ve been struggling with finding language to describe people and organizations dedicated to social, environmental or spiritual change. As I wrote my webpage, which is dedicated to helping these people and organizations thrive, I kept bumping my head against this absence of vocabulary and promised myself to start a conversation here on TripTych to generate new language for this exciting development in our society.

I see a powerful, emerging movement that blurs the lines between traditional nonprofits, grassroots organizations, political movements, government agencies and socially-oriented businesses. What shall we call this movement?

Here are some ideas I’ve heard, but none are perfect, of course. If you have others you like, please share them!