Nonprofits Should Be in the Business of Going Out of Business

Too often, creating sustainable solutions to social problems gets replaced by the creation of solutions that will sustain our organizations and keep our doors open.
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Those of us working in social change organizations know and understand that creating long-term impact rather than a band-aid solution is ideal, so we set out on our quest to make change that will be felt for generations to come. But too often along this road of change, many of us somehow get sidetracked. Creating sustainable solutions to social problems gets replaced by the creation of solutions that will sustain our organizations and keep our doors open.

Over the last few years, there has been a surge in the number of new non-profit organizations popping up around the country. Statistics show that in the last decade nearly 400,000 new non-profits have been created -- nearly double the amount seen in each decade before 1990. It's clear that we're at a very unique time in history. A time where social media and world issues have collided, causing awareness on levels never seen before and people organizing at rates faster than we can blink an eye.

We seem to have the right amount of individuals aware and engaged in the battle to take on these pressing issues, so why are we continuing to see stagnant, slow or no progress? The issue lies in the way we are going about solving these problems. I mean, if we actually solved the problems of the world, why then would our non-profit organizations and awareness campaigns need to exist?

Most nonprofits face the challenge to take on "Mission Impossible" -- a social problem so large and serious that it easily tugs on the heart and purse strings of the general and giving population. There are several ways to effectively tackle these problems -- some hard, most easy. Too many of us are taking the easy way out by opting to just scratch the surface through awareness building or stop short of actual solutions for poverty, water security, HIV and human trafficking in efforts to simply become the face of those issues. I have to admit that, yes, these surface solutions gain media attention, help groups raise millions of dollars and gain thousands of supporters. But at the end of the day, many of these issues are no closer to being solved than they were a decade ago.

This approach isn't sustainable for the long run and, to be plain, just isn't good enough anymore. Non-profits need to be in the business of putting themselves out of business -- not with unwise spending, but with strategic and long-term solutions that will put an end to their cause.

This will take more training, real partnerships, engagement opportunities that extend beyond just creating awareness, and shifting our focus from the growth and scale of our organizations to ending the problems that are the reason we exist in the first place. Instead of creating co-dependent relationships, we need to work on empowering communities to continue programs without our assistance. We need to create strategies that can easily be replicated in other communities to amplify the impact.

Unfortunately, I realize that my suggestions for effecting long-term social change might be pie in the sky because running non-profits has become such a big business. Since donors like to see pictures and hear stories of starving children, new schools being built and wells being dug, nonprofits seek new untapped "markets." Like the for-profit sector, many non-profits seek a competitive advantage that will set them apart from other groups feeding children, building schools and digging wells. Every year they set their sights on bigger and bigger ventures, more partners and soon, that $200,000 donation that was originally supposed to end hunger in some small rural village, is now dedicated solely to monthly operating costs.

Sorrow and despair are more profitable now than ever before, but I'm a closet optimist. I remain hopeful that we can put the need to stay relevant on the backburner in exchange for real solutions.

So, it's up to those of us working for social change to begin asking ourselves "How close did we come to putting ourselves out of business this year?" After all, we should all be working everyday to make ourselves unnecessary.

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