Positively Reframing Nonprofits As ‘Mission-Driven Organizations’

Evan La Ruffa
Sep 19, 2014 · 3 min read

by Evan La Ruffa

As the Founder and Executive Director of IPaintMyMind, a nonprofit arts organization & gallery in Chicago, decoding the term ‘nonprofit’ feels like my job sometimes.

Some of the questions I get are as follows…

Why don’t you wanna make money? Do you hate capitalism? So how do you survive?

To which the answers are…

I do in fact want to make money, no I don’t hate capitalism (but I do think it needs a wake-up call), and by working hard.

The other non-verbal response is a sideways look residing somewhere between disgust, distrust, and ignorance. What’s more, it’s not their fault. The work nonprofit organizations do has been poorly explained to the public mostly because there hasn’t been anyone whose job it was to do exactly that, as Dan Palotta explains in Charity Case (a must-read for anyone in the sector). Luckily, the Charity Defense Council now exists & other nonprofit leaders are thinking along the lines of managing our collective message… so we’re getting there.

As I often say to people, and it’s a line I probably usurped from someone smarter than I, 501(c)(3) charitable status is a tax designation from the IRS, not a business plan. In this sense, nonprofit organizations still need to think about treading water financially, what’s more, they should be thinking about swimming ahead & scaling their impact.

What good are we doing for the mission we say we’re so dedicated to if our organization no longer exists, can’t scale impact, and can’t keep top talent?

The reality is that the term ‘nonprofit’ does the charitable sector a disservice, and there are a few reasons why.

  1. Non-profit is a negative statement. In certain marketing collateral, differentiating yourself can be of use, but we’re talking about a tax designation here. As Adam Braun from Pencil’s for Promise says, “we don’t do this not to make money, we do it for the mission.” I suggest we trash the terms “for profit” and “non profit” and replace them with the terms Private and Mission-Driven.

2. Non-profit implies an inherent lack of focus on finances, and

3. The term non-profit cripples the sector’s own ability to think in terms of business viability, earned income & financial wellness, which is all part of a healthy, functioning mission-based company as well.

All of this is why, at IPaintMyMind, we’ve been really focused on building a business model that would support the continuation of our mission in its current form, but that would also support the scalability of our impact.

Our mission is to make art accessible to everyone, and by transforming private & public spaces through temporary art gallery exhibitions via our Shared Walls™ program, we’re doing exactly that.

To learn more about how we’ve placed earned income & real value at the heart of driving social impact through the arts, read up on Shared Walls & find out how you can help put art everywhere.

I’d also like to appeal to the United States government and the Internal Revenue Service to officially re-evaluate the terminology we use to delineate the Mission-Based Companies in our country.

If you agree, please share, repost, or tweet this article.

Our words define our ideas.

In this case, the particular words we choose should reinforce a positive paradigm, make the general public more aware of how Mission-Driven Organizations work, and create evolution within the charitable sector that focuses on the financial sustainability of projects that have the potential to change the course of history.

So… ya know… there’s massive upside.

Join us.

#IPMM #ArtIsForEveryone

    Evan La Ruffa

    Written by

    Founder, Executive Director & Lead Curator @ IPaintMyMind — Writer, Poet, Strategist, Artist @ EvanLaRuffa — Lover of travel, food, big ideas & open hearts.