Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why Non-Profits Aren't Really Non-Profits - Convergence YMM

This week I had some amazing opportunities once again, and one of them was a chance to attend a conference called "Convergence YMM". Now, I had had some advance notice on what was going to happen at this particular event after a meeting with some of the powerhouse women of our local non-profit organizations, so I knew a bit about what I would take away with me. What I didn't know, though, was that I would go away with a slightly different spin on something pretty fundamental - the name "non-profits".

Recently I was looking at applying for jobs. I was having a discussion with a friend, and during it I began listing the things I don't have or cannot do. He looked at me quizzically and asked if that was always how I sold myself for employment - by reciting all the cannnots and do nots and other negatives. And of course he was right - when the time comes to sell myself, to tell the world why they need me (or at least an employer) I tell them about the positives  - the things I CAN do, and the things I DO. And during an address from Diane Shannon, Executive Director of the United Way, at Convergence a similar point was made - why do we refer to charitable organizations as "non-profits"? Why don't we call them "social profits" or "community benefits" instead?

To say this got my wheels spinning is an understatement. It was one of those questions I find myself diving into, trying to figure out the potential impact of changing something so fundamental, like a name. And the more I thought about it the more the name change grew on me, and the more sense it made. Why, when talking about the importance of these organizations, do we open the dialogue by saying what they are not instead of what they are?

We all know that the role of non-profits is to better the community, and to improve lives. We also know that they are not meant to be businesses, or profitable organizations. But when we call them non-profits I think we unintentionally demean what they do. It somehow implies that they are less than for-profits, when of course I think the exact opposite is true and in some instances they are more important. That "non" term has always bothered me, but I didn't even know there was an alternative - but now I do, and I, at least, plan to adopt it.

One of the things I noticed most at Convergence is the amazing diversity and strength in our charitable organizations. From breastfeeding support groups to homeless shelters, from arts organizations to food banks, they run the entire gamut of the human experience (and that's why I loved the conference, too, a chance to see so many of the people for whom I have such deep and profound respect). What they do - creating community benefit, and building social profit - is so valuable and intrinsic to our function as a community. And I suppose that is why I plan to embrace the term "social profit", because I want to trumpet what they do, not what they are not. I don't say anyone else has to do it, as I realize such changes of nomenclature can be difficult, but for me the term better identifies what I think of the role of these organizations. For me it captures the essence and heart of our social profit sector, and it speaks to the good they do every single day.

I have some more ideas to share that came out of Convergence, but those will wait for another day, and another blog post, as there is simply too much to fit into one post (and such is the success of Convergence YMM 2013 - there was so much food for thought on one day that I cannot encapsulate it all in one post). For me, though, a huge moment was when Diane made the statement about the name "non-profits" vs. a name that better reflects what they do. For me that moment was one of those that is a bit life-changing, because a change in name is often a change in dialogue, and the dialogue about the future of the local social profit sector - and this community as a whole - is really just beginning. To me this seems an ideal time for a change in name, because as we embark on this brave new future I think we need to make sure our names reflect our goals, our visions, and our aspirations. To me social profit captures the heart and soul of that sector so beautifully, and that is why it captured my heart and mind, too.

My sincere thanks to
the organizers of Convergence YMM 2013
for inviting me to attend, 
and to Diane Shannon
for suggesting a way to change the dialogue from the very start.

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