“Are you non-profity?”

“Do you have enough non-profitness?”

“How non-profit like can you be?”

These questions were asked by Dr. Paul Light, the opening keynote speaker and a professor at NYU where the Craigslist Non-profit bootcamp was held this past weekend.  While these questions may make you laugh they highlight a necessary step that nonprofits must take in order to do their best work: we must craft and celebrate our uniqueness.

How often do we lament that we are not more “business like” meaning that we are not more efficient and productive (although plenty of businesses  do not live up to these standards)?  The non-profit sector is the only field where we describe ourselves by what we are NOT.  We’re not efficient, we’re not powerful, we’re not wealthy, we’re not this, we’re not that.  Instead of boo-hooing over what we are not, why not celebrate what we are and take more deliberate steps towards fulfilling our goals. 

He listed eight unique characteristics that non-profits have and that we should hone in on.

1.  “I am making a difference and can show you how.”

It is not enough to simply tell people what we are doing, we must show them.  Being transparent increases confidence.  Not just in terms of the effectiveness of our programs but how much we spend on overhead and other costs. 

2.  “I work closely with others to address our most pressing issues.”

Collaboration is key to the success and vitality of nonprofits.  We tend to focus on people who start their own non-profits because socially were are obsessed with heroes.  However often times we dont need new organizations, we need new ideas to move the organizations that we already have forward.  Additionally, it’s ok to work with corporations and the government.  As one workshop leader put it “go from being a critic to a consultant.”

3.  “I am innovative and creative.”

While bringing new ideas is great sometimes what we need is to take old ideas and apply them in new ways to bring different results.  Being innovative requires that we explore what we know and adding a new perspective to it.

4.  “I am prepared to do good.”

We need to demand access to the latest technology in order to do our work effectively.  Looking poor to solicit sympathy does more harm than good as it implies that you are not ready to do what you claim you will do.

5.  “I am independent.”

While philanthropy is a sign of community investment in the greater good, we shouldnt be afraid to invest in ourselves by creating additional streams of income.  Even if a small amount is generated, it is an amount that we control and use as we see fit.  There is nothing wrong with looking for ways to support ourselves. 

6.  “I am just.”

We must walk the walk.  We cant attack poverty while giving our employees poverty wages.  We cant demand excellence in education without providing employees professional development and training opportunities.  It is not just inconvenient to employees–it is immoral

7.  “I am audacious.”

One of our greatest goals should be to put ourselves out of business.  Our work should come in addition to our advocacy to eradicate the conditions that demand our existence in the first place.

8.  “I am proud.”

I’m doing important work.  I’m invested in the organization and it’s mission and commited to social well being of others.  There is no reason to be ashamed.

His words were more than inspiring–it reminded me of why I came into this field in the first place.  

These characteristics were themes in the workshops I attended.  Each workshop addressed a particular characteristic, celebrated it and discussed how to make it stronger instead of how to change it.  As I have mentioned before, our biggest issue is not our leadership rather our public perception which is shaped by how we behave and interact with others.  It’s time to build our confidence and harness our own power.