Be a Company Who Cares

The One Thing Businesses Should Borrow from Nonprofits

My first marketing job was at a nonprofit. I later made the switch to the agency world, but not without the nonprofit lens having a major impact on how I view work (and the world). Over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of calls for nonprofits to behave more like for profit businesses, but hardly ever a suggestion it might go the other way.

Having worked in both sectors, I can think of at least a few good reasons why it should. One bit of language has been particularly useful to me, and I’d love to see businesses adopting this as part of their language:

Is this mission appropriate?

In the business world, I continue to meet company leaders who can’t clearly articulate their organizational purpose, and still more who have nothing more than profit as their reason for being. For a primer on why profit is a terrible purpose, check out RSA Animate and Daniel Pink’s surprising truth about what motivates us.

But I’d be hard pressed to find a nonprofit out there that isn’t purpose-focused, and one doesn’t simply start an NPO to make money. It begins with a noble cause.

You’ll hear this phrase uttered time and time again in the halls and board rooms of nonprofits, “Is this mission appropriate?” New ideas and programs are held up against the mission, tested for fit. Nonprofits know that funders will hold them accountable for staying true to their purpose. Donors, staff and board members alike will speak up if a nonprofit veers from the mission they believe in.

As a new generation entering the workforce demands companies who care, borrowing from nonprofits seems smarter than ever. According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of millennials said part of the reason they chose their workplace was based on the company’s sense of purpose.

So how can you be a company who cares? A purpose comes first. This is why you are in business. Setting a mission is the next step, if you don’t already have one that lives beyond paper. A mission is how you do what you do. Your whole team must know it without referencing a dusty handbook. Once you have it, you can use it as a lens when you make important decisions. If we do x, how will we further our purpose and mission?

There are other habits I learned in the nonprofit world that have highly influenced how I approach business. There’s the culture of thanks and relationship building that is part of managing donor relations. There’s the language about giving gifts that are personally significant, something I’ve used as guidance for cultural contributions at SmallBox.

If you don’t know where to start, check out a nonprofit or two that aligns with something you care about. Stalk them online, volunteer if you can. If you go looking for it, you just mind find your own inspiration for running your organization with heart.