Nonprofit Myths

A wheelchair-bound man on Skid Row, Los Angeles

A gap exists between nonprofit myths and nonprofit realities. If you focus on societal problems such as homelessness, you might think nonprofits don’t do much good at all. We’ve got all these service groups and still have a big problem. If you read the marketing releases of some nonprofits, you’d think they truly are saving the known world. Most nonprofits exist somewhere in between.

We Change the World One Life at a Time

A friend once told me that if his organization helped end homelessness for one person, he changed that person’s world. In reality, we change the world one life at a time. The nonprofit myth that an organization must be large to be effective isn’t true. Growth for growth’s sake can often create more problems for a nonprofit than it solves.

Nonprofits Aren’t Perfect

An online article about high-impact nonprofits highlighted how groups can make a positive difference without hitting on all the right buttons. For example, take mission statements. Many of my coworkers live out our nonprofit’s mission statement daily, but probably couldn’t recite it if asked. Mission statements are often word-smithed by committees more interested in agenda points than practicality.

Also, most nonprofits aren’t well oiled machines. We deal with issues such as employee conflict, morale problems and burnout just like the for-profit sector does. Just because you work for some noble purpose doesn’t mean that everything works like a charm.

Nonprofit Reality

The nonprofits doing most of the local heavy lifting will never be featured in a national publication. These groups are saving the puppies, helping pregnant teens, teaching literacy skills to at-risk kids, doing prison outreach and working with troubled people. They get down in the trenches of local communities and do the hard work, often while getting a two-star rating or less from Charity Navigator.

The idea that a nonprofit ain’t worth squat it it doesn’t have a sizzling strategic plan coupled with a dazzling vision statement is one of several big nonprofit myths. Every nonprofit can and should work to improve. However, the daily work to improve the lives of those we serve won’t wait on us getting everything perfect.

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