How Can We Reduce the Number of Nonprofits?
By Michael Barnes
Currently, there are about 1.5 million 501c3 organizations in the United States with thousands more being created all the time. There are 8,000-20,000 in the Cincinnati, OH area alone.
These nonprofits are started by people with a passion for a cause. They are started by people who desire to “make a difference”, to “bring the passion in their heart into the world.” This is an incredibly laudable goal. As we’ve all heard (some variation of), “all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.” These are people who hear the clarion call of those in need and step forward to help!
The challenge, however, is that with this plethora of organizations, there is obviously going to be duplication of mission and services in a local area. As has been pointed out many times by many people, this over-saturation of the market leads to many challenges:
- Increased competition for funds
- Increased competition for board members
- Increased competition for volunteers
- Donor fatigue due to being constantly asked for money (thanks Facebook! 😉 )
So, if we agree that these issues are a problem and one cause of them is the large number of new nonprofits, what could be a solution?
Many, including myself, suggest that those considering starting a nonprofit should look around to see if there is already an organization that exists serving the same need. Perhaps the prospective founder could simply join an existing nonprofit. In fact, although we have a program to help nonprofits get started, we suggest that 3 out of 4 of those with whom we speak should join an existing organization.
Having spoken with many prospective founders, many of them believe a gap still exists in the nonprofit fabric of the community. Their program is still needed.
Having spoken with many current nonprofit leaders, I find they are often reluctant to add new programs to their existing organization. This reluctance is usually due to a real or perceived limitation of resources and funding.
One quote I found in an online discussion, “In our case, the doors were firmly shut at different nonprofits we researched and approached. It is sad and demoralizing, as we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or run a non-profit. But here we are, learning and “killing it.” “
So, the suggestion that is usually thrown out to “just join an existing nonprofit” may not be possible, may not feed the soul of the prospective founder, and may prevent innovation and introduction of new solutions that are needed by those whom nonprofits help.
Thinking about the advice to join an existing nonprofit, it becomes apparent that this is very self-serving and one-sided suggestion for the current nonprofit leaders. It protects them from competition and keeps other “players” out of the market. It protects “their” donors, dollars, volunteers, and board members.
What if we turn this on its head?
What if existing nonprofits become much more open to new members. What if they welcomed prospective founders into the upper echelon of the existing nonprofits? What if they become excited to add new programs to their organizations? What if they made the option of joining an existing nonprofit a POSITIVE choice for a prospective founder? This, as opposed to what often happens now: Someone is brought in at a low level, with little influence, to work in an existing organization that does not do what the prospective founder thinks should be done.
Bottom line, what if existing nonprofits were more nimble and innovative?
Why is it that those thinking of starting a nonprofit are asked to give up their dream? They are asked to accept a less senior role with concomitantly less influence on the organization. They are often asked to simply mold into the current structure and function of the organization.
There are 2 sides to this excess capacity conundrum. What if both sides take steps toward each other?