Off my rocker and dreaming

The other day, someone asked me if I was worried I would become known as “That crazy lady who won’t stop talking about renaming the nonprofit sector“.

I told him no.

Here’s why: Because I am 100% comfortable being thought of as a little off my rocker if it means we find a way to talk about our work that gets away from a term that defines it by what it is not, instead of what it IS. Because it is awesome and important and ground-breaking and world-changing.

And it has nothing at all to do with sector. (Which, as Joanne Fritz pointed out in the comments on this post, sounds militaristic and silo’d.)

I dream of a day when the do-gooders of the world don’t feel obligated to have their sector define their impact. It doesn’t matter if you work for a 501c3, a venture fund, or a global software giant. The tax status of where you work is irrelevant. The impact of the work you do is absolutely relevant.

I dream of a day when we define ourselves not by sector, but by cause, purpose, vision, mission, and community.

Sectors are handy from a regulation perspective. But if we allow them to create artificial boundaries that define our work, we miss opportunities to create connections inspired by shared purpose vs shared tax status.

Will it be easy to change how we talk about our work? No. Change is hard. It takes time and tenacity. And some will say, “It ain’t really broken, so why fix it?”

My dream is not everyone’s dream. But that’s the nature of dreams–they are yours and you can choose to share them or not.

I am choosing to share this dream because I believe words matter. I believe they influence our impact. I believe words are one piece of the elusive puzzle that is a better world.

So I’m fine being the crazy lady who dreams about words, the demise of sector dominance, and the advent of a way to describe our work that speaks to what it is. I’m totally cool with that. Because our work is making the world a better place. And that matters.



Seth Godin in Seattle

Seth Godin, June 24, 2011 | Photo by Kathy E Gill (@kegill)

Seth Godin’s brain processes information at warp speed. Today, members of his tribe–myself included–got to see his brain in person. Well, we didn’t actually see his brain because that would be icky, but we got to see his brain in action. Meaning he answered questions for 2 hours straight.

The questions ranged from personal (e.g. how do you produce so much quality content every day?!) to thought-provocating (e.g. from Lara Feltin, Co-Founder and CEO of Biznik who asked about assets and freemiums). Here were some of my favorite quotes and take-aways:


“Find music for your listeners, not listeners for your music.” In other words, bring as much value as you can to people who are already engaged with your organization, rather than chasing after people who may or may not be interested. Susan Howlett and other fundraising thought leaders have been pounding the ‘retention’ drum for quite awhile. Seth would definitely second that.

“Let’s slather some Facebook on that.”  This was probably my favorite quote of the morning. Facebook is huge and nonprofits should be using it to its full advantage. However, Facebook isn’t a silver bullit. Yes, you’ve heard this before…but have you ever thought that maybe you’re using Facebook as a scapegoat for a poorly designed (or not done) marketing plan?

“You can’t build a brand on-line. You can build the privilege of getting someone’s attention.”  Seth is all about permission marketing. This is in sharp contrast to interruption marketing (think TV ads before DVRs and mute buttons), which was how all those mad men made bank. Permission takes time, yet it is enduring. For mission-driven organizations constantly worried about cash flow, this can be a tough pill to swallow. However, if you’re focused on bringing music to your listeners, it makes a ton of sense.

If you were there, what stuck out for you. If you weren’t there, anything you wish you could’ve asked Seth?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?