For Impact over Not-for-Profit

Kathy Kuras


"We have to stand for things, not against things." Simon Sinek

In a video posted yesterday, Simon Sinek raises an interesting point about not-for-profit organizations. The term "not-for-profit" is simply a tax deliniation that grew to widespread adoption as a way of referring to social sector organizations to distinguish them from for-profit businesses. However, the term doesn't adequately describe what the organizations do, just what they don't do. Sinek offers a solution: evolve the language. Refer to social sector organizations for what they do, "for impact" instead of what they don't do, "not-for-profit." His point is clear, "we have to stand for things, not against things." 

A quick web scan shows that for impact organizations (see how easy that is) do refer to what they do and the difference they make within their brand identiy languge. For instance, the ASPCA is for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The American Red Cross is for helping those affected by disaster. Teach for America is for expanding educational opportunity. Charity Water is for bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. The YMCA is for strengthing community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.  Perhaps it will be a fairly seemless shift to discard the old "not-for-profit" label  in favor of the new "for impact" descriptor.

I was recently involved in a strategic planning meeting where we were discussing potential priority areas. As we were debating pros and cons of a few options, a question was raised about ROI. It went something like this, "I can clearly see the ROI on the first two options in terms of increased revenue but the third option doesn't have an ROI. It would need to be funded  in some other way. I know this is a not-for-profit organization but don't we still need to see an ROI?" Someone quickly chimed in explaining that revene is not the only ROI we work to acheive. If we invest resources - human, financial, equipment, etc. - in a program that changes lives, there is a return on our investment. It's simply measured in something other than money. As Sinek points out in the video: "If your objective is to rescue kittens out of trees, then you better be profitable. You better be rescuing more kittens out of trees this month than you did last month."  

Of course, for impact organizations do need to be fiscally healthy and have strong, sustainable funding sources in order to be profitable in the impact they are working to achieve. The difference is money is a means to an end  and not the end itself.

The next time I'm asked what I do, I'll explain that I create and deliver solutions to advance the missions of for impact organizations. I can't wait to hear the next question, "what's a for impact organization?"


Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash