Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another nonprofit? Make it stop, please!

"I care about poor people and I have this great idea that will make a difference!"

Translation: I'm going to start a nonprofit, get registered and add to the proliferation of 501(c) 3s in the sector.

As a self-proclaimed lover of the nonprofit sector, even I find myself often wondering why there are so many nonprofit organizations, many of which are actually doing the same thing. In a small town in New Jersey, you can find several organizations geared at mentoring youth, several geared at providing services for the homeless, several geared at organizing parents to become advocates. The list of duplicities continues.

I admit that with a population of 8 million, New Jersey is a fairly large state. However, I still wonder why the first inclination when we have a bright idea is to start our own organization. Admittedly, most of the organizations that already exist are certainly not perfect. Perhaps what they need are people with bright ideas to join them rather than compete with them.

Of course economists tell us that competition is healthy and may help attain better results. I will not argue against that point - I think it is often true. However, as the economy continues to shrink and funders continue to tighten their coffers, the proliferation of NGOs has resulted not only in competing to provide the best service, but also competing for scarce funds. As a result, Jane who had a bright idea is now fighting Kareem, who also had a bright idea.

What would happen if Jane and Kareem jointly decided to create a mentoring program? Is starting an NGO about me feeding my ego or figuring out the most efficient way to make a difference in the lives of others? Does there have to be an economic crisis to force collaboration within the sector? Is more really better?

For a somewhat alternative opinion, check out Nathaniel Whittemore's piece on change.gov.

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