Jan 31

What’s in a Name Anyway?

Nonprofit. Not-for-profit. Charities. Charitable Organizations.

Man, are these the worst names for a sector.  The idea that a collective group would get together and say, “You know what? When we think of a name, we really should define ourselves in the negative. I mean, it would make us stand out, wouldn’t you think?”

Think about it. If you were the first group of Retailers to form in the country (you know… you, Mr. Gap, Mr. Levis, Mr. Target, and of course Mr. Wally Walmart)… you think you would have considered calling it not the “Retail Sector” but rather “Non-Free-Stuff Sector.”

Um… no.

Yet, here we are. The THIRD largest employment sector in the country. Yep, third.  Retail is #1; Manufacturing is #2; then Nonprofits.  And we call ourselves easily the most ridiculous sector name since “Leeching Sector” of medicine.

Oh, yeah, and the other part of “nonprofit” – that whole lack of making profit thing- is another absolutely silly myth. Like any kind of business could truly live and sustain with a business model of “Hey guys, it’s June 30th! We’ve got one day to burn through this remaining coinage in the till. July 1 is a-comin’!” (* Fiscal Year Humor *)  Can nonprofits have positive profit by the end of year/end of fiscal year? YES. Of course it can. The idea of profit being split to directors or shareholders is what is at issue. Nonprofits can’t be profit centers for board members or investors.. but to suggest each nonprofit starts their year with a big old Goose-Egg in the bank? Just silly.

So for your approval… a couple of suggestions for a sector name change:

  • Community Impact Sector
  • Social Enterprise Sector
  • Empowerment Sector

So much of the problems associated with the nonprofit sector stems from the fact that our name (and therefor the implied spirit that it gives) gives us an “extra” kind of sector feel. We are “charity” – which again, suggests an after-the-fact kind of placement. A sort of “Make your money. Then, IF you have some left over, give to charity, if you want.”  But the truth? Nonprofits are assets. Nonprofits are resources to a community. Many of the nonprofits that you can think about supplement what governments would then have to take on. And what does a larger government footprint (aka expenses) require? You guessed it. Higher taxes. Bureaucracy.  Nonprofits provide services that governments know are needed in their community; yet there is distance separating what is the accepted connection between your city hall and the homeless shelter in town.

Seems strange, doesn’t it? You would think political leaders and nonprofit leaders would be meeting constantly. Constantly to move empty political campaign rhetoric into actual public policy. Constantly to see how each other can support the efforts collectively.

But that name. NONPROFIT. It gives everyone cover to distance themselves.

Shops closing around town? Government leaders meet with “the business community” or “retailers” to find ways to encourage business.  Manufacturers moving oversees? Elected official create more positive incentives & tax breaks to “bring back manufacturing.”

If your elected leaders had an “Empowerment Sector” in town…wouldn’t you want (maybe DEMAND) that he/she meet with them to, you know, EMPOWER the community more?

Names matter. We spend billions of dollars on baby books so that our kids can have a name that brings both joy and pride (and no..naming your kid something like “GPS” is just plain dumb. You’re not ironic or brilliant. You’re a dope.)… how much money, focus groups, and whiteboard space will people spend to get that perfect company name – or most importantly now, for that great website address? (no one wants www.MyGodThisNameIsBecomingDifficultToTypeAsAWebsiteAddressAllTogether.com)

I think the nonprofit sector should come together and think about a rebranding… a name adjustment.  RIM just ditched their name for the more friendly, more obvious, and less creepy “Blackberry“; The band Mookie Blaylock realized that wouldn’t work out so well and changed to Pearl Jam; and Prince became this:


So think about it, creative types… let’s get in a room and knock this out.  Count me in, or my name isn’t Douglas [don’t have an actual middle name] Knight…. man, talk about needing a name fix… dang. ~DK

PS  Wanna help the nonprofit sector? It starts with political leaders who get and understand what the sector REALLY is, and not that backdrop for a photo op… it will take a new defiinition, new leadership, and a new voice. That’s where CForward comes in. If you a nonprofiteer, come check us out online, on Facebook, and on Twitter. If you know someone who works in the nonprofit sector, invite them to check it out: No Profits Without Nonprofits


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