There is Nothing “Non-Profit” About Non-Profit Organizations

In 2006 I founded and continue to run Music For Everyone, a “non-profit” organization with a
mission to cultivate the power of music as an educational and community-building tool in
Lancaster County, PA. Given that I had no previous experience in this world, my learning curve
over the past 18 years has been long and steep. The most important lesson learned is that
there is nothing “non-profit” about running a non-profit organization.

While non-profit might be an accurate description of our tax status, the term communicates
nothing about what we do. Specifically, MFE raises resources and applies them as strategic
investments to benefit our community.

This is not an insignificant distinction. Words and terms matter, particularly when required to
communicate to the public, donors, and foundations why MFE exists. Thus, I’ve come to agree
with those who believe a more descriptive and effective term to use is “Community Benefit
Organization” (CBO).

That said, CBOs absolutely should be about “profit”, albeit a vastly different type of “profit”. In
other words, the “profit” motive that drives CBOs is measured differently than a business.
Businesses measure their success in terms of financial profits and returns on investment.

Profits = “Success”.

A more accurate description of “success” for CBOs relates to their effectiveness in leveraging
their resources for positive community impact. While a CBO must generate profits to do the
important things they do, the amount of profit is not the true measuring stick of organizational
effectiveness. Profits and resources generated are simply a tool used to further the organizational
mission. Rather than monetary profit, it is community impact that is the standard of success. The
more money and resources raised and effectively and efficiently leveraged, the greater the CBO’s
community impact.

Profits = Community Impact = “Success”.

Using the term “non-profit” can be counter-productive and harmful because the term itself
conjures and implies ideas, impressions, confusion, beliefs, and attitudes that can negatively
impact organizational effectiveness. For example, there is a nagging societal perception that
because CBOs are “non-profit”, they are not as serious and important a business as a “real” (for
profit) business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, CBOs and the work they do is exponentially
more serious and important because their mission is to tackle a multitude of challenging societal
and community issues, from homelessness to public health, to education to social justice, to
identify only a few. These are all critical issues with impacts that go beyond simply generating
dividends for investors.

At the end of the day, it’s straightforward. CBOs must be run like for-profit businesses because
if they don’t generate profits and resources, they can’t do all the vitally important things they do
to address the many serious and challenging issues we face as a society.
In other words, there’s nothing “non-profit” about non-profit organizations.

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