Do You Still “Dial” a Phone Number?

Posted on December 28, 2009. Filed under: Combined Federal Campaign - CFC, Customer Service, Fundraising, Leadership, Non-profits |

Do You Still “Dial A Phone Number?”

Of course you do, and you may say “I need to call Sally” but the expression I need to “dial the phone number” is still legitimate even though dials themselves disappeared from the phone years ago. By the way, what’s a “dial tone” if there is no dial?

I mention these examples because some in the non-profit world are about to embark on the periodic effort to change the term “nonprofit” to something else. This occurs periodically, and has some attraction because the feeling is that the word “non-profit” doesn’t explain what non-profits are and how valuable they really are to society.

If you’re new to the non-profit world you may not realize that the non-profit academic world spent about a decade debating whether or not non-profit had a hyphen in it. As I just used in the examples above, it can be spelled either way, and it’s still correct.

Some of the terms that have been suggested include “independent sector, community benefit organizations, social profit, delta sector, third sector, and social enterprise, among others.

Doing just a quick Google search shows these numbers of instances for the terms listed, plus the word “business”:

Business 1,890,000,000
Non-profit 105,000,000
Nonprofit 31,200,000
Community Benefit 458,000
Third Sector 1,820,000
Social profit 83,600
Delta Sector 115,000
Social enterprise 1,900,000

Now I understand the limitation of the word non-profit, but that’s not because the term itself is bad, it’s because the non-profit sector has done such a lousy job of explaining what non-profits are to the American public and how they are different from businesses.

One of my fundamental pointss I pose as a board member or non-profit consultant is:
“Don’t forget to ask the “New Coke” question – what happens if we do this.” Do we spend the next twenty years getting people to call non-profits “NewTerm, previously called nonprofits” because that “previously called non-profits” phrase will be need to be there for a long time (years).

As I said in my open letter to the Independent Sector at their meeting about the “future of non-profits:”

Non-profits have done a spectacularly lousy job of explaining themselves to the American public.

Modern societies need three components to function: government, businesses, and non-profits. Non-profits are the glue that holds society together, and while in the USA we have a market economy, our society is bigger than the economy. Non-profits are inherently different than businesses. Governments are inherently different than businesses. Here is a diagram showing the fundamental difference between businesses and non-profits. It is astounding how many non-profit leaders (and political leaders) don’t do a better job of communicating to the American public about the value of all three components of society, all of which are critical.

Business Organization Non-profit Organization

(Blogging Software is not allowing a display of the graphic, if you
would like, send me an e-mail and I’ll gladly send it to you.)

The fundamental difference is that in the business example, the provider of the funds is also the direct recipient of the benefits of goods and/or services provided, e.g. customers. On its face, the diagram on the right is more complex than the one on the left, and this is what non-profit leaders have done a poor job of communicating to the American public


Instead of spending a lot of internal energy debating what term should be used, which would be a waste of time, because the phrase “non-profit” is so imbued throughout the English language and laws that it would take decades for it to be replaced, let’s concentrate on showing and telling the American public what non-profits are and why they matter.

It would be a much better use of the collective time and talent of the non-profit sector.

Bill Huddleston
P.S. I have just about finished updating my CFC Special report for 2010, please go to cfcfundraising dot com and request it, it will be sent soon.
Thanks very much!

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