Nonprofits Are Not In A Competitive Business Environment…NOT!!!

Recently the director of a local hunger nonprofit apologized when she let slip her dissatisfaction regarding the fundraising success of another local nonprofit hunger agency. Although her organization is competing for donors somehow she deemed it inappropriate to view this other nonprofit as a competitor. Often such a view results from a misperception that a nonprofit is not in business. It is! Nonprofits are businesses and need to stimulate a healthy competitive spirit when it comes to achieving their mission. 

In the for-profit business sector there is nothing wrong with competition. Indeed, competition is considered healthy. The competitive drive is less prevelant among nonprofit organizations. Often a competitive attitude is considered contrary to the sector’s purpose. Yet one must ask since all nonprofit’s have a mission of doing good shouldn’t each want nothing but the maximum impact? Without wishing failure on other organizations the fact is nonprofits are in the fundraising business and are competing for support.  Given limited resources not every organization is going to gain an equal share of these resources. So striving to be the best is achieved by fostering healthy competitive attitudes and behaviors in the nonprofit business to help reach its business objectives and goals. Striving to be the best needs to undergird all nonprofit action from acquiring donors to service/product delivery.

Again if a nonprofit believes its business objective is important and makes a difference in the world why wouldn’t it want to be the best at what it provides!  In the for-profit sector a local pizza restauranteur wants to provide better pizza and service to its customers than the shop around the corner. Don’t you think every time a Domino’s pizza delivery vehicle passes by the window of a Papa John’s the Papa John’s franchise owner doesn’t feel a little irritated this was not one of his or her deliveries? You bet he or she does! Nonprofit’s need to hold similar views. Each is competing in a marketplace to secure limited and important resources to produce their product or service. A similar competitive attitude is especially important in the nonprofit sector since the demand for donor dollars increases every year in the sector.  It is naive and limiting to operate otherwise.

Nonprofits who instill a healthy competitive attitude in their professional staff and volunteers will gain an edge on other nonprofits since most nonprofits do not take advantage of this important organizational variable. Sadly, many nonprofits organizations are just showing up for the ball game, accepting that they are not playoff contenders, not believing they are operating in a competitive environment. Some believe that doing good precludes operating with a competitive spirit (Doing Good is What Really Matters … Not!). This behavior undermines success. I say don’t get in the game if you do not want to do your best!

A competitive business spirit among nonprofits will result in better outcomes and a more efficient delivery of services within the sector. The market will reward those organizations who do better. And a more efficient exchange of goods and services will increase the sector’s impact.  This is required if the nonprofit business sector wishes to fulfill its important role in meeting human need.


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