This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!
“We are not getting out of our nonprofits what I think most people want and expect”
excerpt from book
David Passiak: You went from building some of the biggest brands in the world and being awarded Creative Director of the Decade from 2000-2010, to applying those same skill sets to nonprofits and climate change. It seems like now companies are trying to have a more positive impact on the world, while many nonprofits struggle to make a difference that really breaks through to public consciousness. Can you reflect on your experience building brands across the entire spectrum?
Alex Bogusky: Nonprofits are way more fucked up than the for-profit space, and fucked up in a way that would surprise most people. You think they would be more cooperative than for-profits, but it is absolutely the opposite. You see much more cooperation between for-profit companies than nonprofits. The reason is the way both are funded.
Big foundations and endowments have big pools of money and evaluate nonprofits based on their success. Not the audacity of what they took on or their incremental progress, but “We said we’d do this and we did it. And we told you last year we’d do this and we did it.” As a result, nonprofits promise to hit minute little goals that measure success and are on a funding treadmill. They can’t cooperate with other nonprofits because they all fight over the same pool of money, and they can’t take on real issues because if they fail then funding will not get renewed.
There are fewer and fewer examples of nonprofits like Greenpeace willing to take on impossible challenges, like driving your boat between the harpoons and the whales, and chaining yourself to trees, or like 350.org taking on the Keystone Pipeline. When you think of the nonprofit space, you imagine an attitude of “It doesn’t matter if we win; we have to try” but in practice most nonprofits only focus on things that they can win because of the way that fundraising works. We are not getting out of our nonprofits what I think most people want and expect.