The Sheer Drama of it all
Philip B. Cubeta, CLU®, ChFC®, MSFS, CAP®

What Makes Nonprofits More Special

Lester Salamon is hardly a polemicist, he is a scholar of the nonprofit sector at Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins.  In this article, with a wonderful info-graphic, Salamon suggests that the nonprofit sector exists as a force field with four poles: Voluntarism, Civic Activism, Professionalism, and Commericialism.  My guess is that his heart is with Voluntarism and Civic Activism, in the tradition of Tocqueville. In any case, Salamon is alarmed that the Commericial vision of giving, which goes by so many names and has so many busswords (the social economy, markets for good, impact investing, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy that gets results, metrics) is gaining so much mind share and market share that it is beginning to crowd out the public's perception of Voluntarism and Civic Activism - these are where, he feels, I believe, the heart and soul of the sector reside, and here is where its defining differences lie.

If we agree that Professionalism (getting things done by experts) and Commericialism (market based solutions) are about measurable inputs, outputs, and results - then why do we need nonprofits at all? And why should they be give them tax breaks, when for profits can certainly do inputs, outputs, and results - in fact that is what for-profits excell at.

If Commericialism and Professionalism (expertism) prevail in occluding our vision of Voluntarism and Social Activism, the day will come, perhaps soon, that we lose our tax advantages and have to compete not only against other nonprofits for capital, but against double bottom line for-profits as well. For profit hospitals, schools, elder care, and so many others will prevail against their nonprofit equivalents. A for-profit church is a stretch, but a cult would work and could be a good business, in fact Brands seem to aspire to such charisma.

The tone of the insurgents is in some cases worse than (to my ear) brash, crass, vain-glorious and self aggrandizing, it is downright cruel. The vision reminds me of Shock and Awe. These are the best and brighest who will bring Freedom (the neoliberal sort) to whatever more primitive culture they encounter, whether in Iraq or in the nonprofit sector. Their values, what they have become in the process of mastering and being mastered by an economic mentality is to me horrifying. This is what Conrad wrote about in The Heart of Darkness, the darkness at the heart of the Englightenment and its business models. It is the neo-colonial mentality of Kurtz who would saveexterminae all the brutes.  Of course, I am exaggerating. But you tell me what is your assessment of the humanity or the overt personna of this man here - what kind of person is he pretending to be? (What he is might be another matter, I imagine that underneath the bravado, he is a poor bare forked creature such as thou art. We are all just getting by as best we can. I would share a beer with him willingly, if he will buy the first round and loan me the money for the second.)

Rebels in Training: A new force of young Revolunatary marketers is hitting the nonprofit street

They’re a generation passionate about causes, committed to changing the world. They’re blurring the lines between business and nonprofits, merging them into a dynamic blend.

They’re way beyond the old-think safe formulae of the nonprofit sector.

They’ve been trained in critical thinking, creative concepts, human-centered design strategy and big idea creation. They know how to Seize the Conversation and help raise millions of dollars. They’re armed with education from USC/Annenberg and experience with L.A’s largest nonprofits.  These rebels are ready to Go Jugular.

Peer into their training camp. See photos in action. The Revolution can train your marketing department just like them. 

 You see what I mean? My own reading of the prose  is more along the lines of Thurber's "Walter Mitty." Such writing comes from  reading too many self-gratifying Case Studies of Entrepreneurs, CEOs, and other Cut Throat Execs who Go Jugular, and too few works of literature that would chasten gradiosity and the false sublime.  This brings me back to Salamon. Here are the virtues he sees (based on his surveys) of old-think, safe nonprofits.  Productive, Empowering, Effective, Enriching, Reliable, Responsive and Caring.Reading that list of old-fashioned values against the amazing, serio-comic, bluster above we get to the the question of aspiration, and the formation of a better self in a less than ideal world. As the Jesuists ask their high school students, "What kind of person do you want to be? In what kind of world?"

Nonprofits (particularly the Voluntaristic ones, the schools and the clubs and the religious orgs) support, at their best, a higher form of humanity than that to which the author above seems to aspire. He seems based on his prose sample to see no higher and to aspire no further than values like self assertion, self aggrandizement, and domination of others.  That of course and making a buck and getting results, as business and war do.  (The museum is a casualty of war.)

As a teacher (without students) myself, and a moralist pro tem, out on bail, convicted of crimes I did not commit, what I see  in the writing above, is a failure of education. How we got to a place in America where our best schools not only turn out such "Leaders," but glory in it, passes my understanding.  I recently saw a pieceentitled "Disrupt Oxford," about a conference to be held there at the business school, on impact investing. I would like to say that the older forms of empire building still have something to teach the newer. A close reading of Plutarch on Alexander the Great (John Dryden's translation is here) could only help the newer swaggering warriors, as they set out to conquer the world, without first mastering themselves.

I would like to apoligize in advance if I see others as they do not see themsevles - a common objection, it seems,  to my writing, or way of seeing. Art holds the mirror up to nature as Horace said, but it is a magic glass in which we seldom recognize our own visage.  I know what it is to fail. If I had the power to rip out another's jugular, I would do it willingly, if it paid, and someone in authority told me it was good for society. My own aspirations, my moral biography, my own journey from sucess to significance - Krapps Last Tape about sums them up.  I am the last person on earth, given my dissolute life in a Dumpster, to convince you that a liberal arts education is a good investment of time and energy. For me to say that is has made me a better person is a sick joke. (What would I have to have been at 12 for me to be better now?) Go for the money! Join the "Rebels" in their camp. I would myself if I could afford the tuition.  I have been disrupted and left for dead. Beware! The same may happen to you.