Huh? Someone actually thinks it’s a bad idea for inspired Boomers to independently do good?
Well, that’s what’s implied by the headline from a provocative op-ed piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy last month. The article was written by Mark Rosenman, Director of Caring to Change, a project that seeks to improve how grant making serves the public. Rosenman was reacting to a study by Civic Ventures that found that more than 12 million Americans from 44 to 70 years old would like to start nonprofits or businesses that solve social problems. The article has received a great deal of attention at The Chronicle’s website and in a number of Groups at LinkedIn.
Unfortunately, Rosenman misses the major point of the study.
Unlike Rosenman, I find it exciting that 12 million citizens want to create socially responsible nonprofit organizations or businesses. This spirit of optimism, entrepreneurialism, and civic engagement should be applauded. Instead, Rosenman chastises these noble Americans for being “ill-advised and [having] self-centered ambition….”
The creation of nonprofit organizations and socially-responsible businesses is inherently democratic. By contrast, Rosenman’s call is, at best elitist. I am always gravely suspicious when someone in the establishment wants to shut the door to fresh, independent thinking and new organizations.
I reached out to Rosenman privately via his Caring to Change website. I haven’t received a response. Is Rosenman too elitist to answer some specific questions from someone who disagrees with much of what he has written? Perhaps. However, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk up the lack of response to a technology glitch or simple oversight.
My first question for Rosenman was: Are you opposed to the creation of any new nonprofit organizations or just millions of them? How many new nonprofit organizations would be “safe” to create over the next five or 10 years? The headline from his op-ed piece implies he’s opposed to the creation of any new nonprofit organizations. If that’s not the case, he certainly has not stated how many new organizations he would deem acceptable.
Rosenman also failed to respond to my second question: I noticed that the Caring to Change project received funding from at least two “new” nonprofits, foundations created in the 1990s. For someone who speaks out against the creation of new nonprofits, is that not a bit hypocritical? Since I have no response from Rosenman, I’ll answer the question myself: YES!
As for Rosenman’s own questions, which he posed in his article, they are not particularly constructive. He asked, “…why do boomer entrepreneurs seem to think that starting millions of brand-new entities is the most effective way to make a societal contribution?” He also asked, “Why can’t they work through existing organizations to start their creative new programs, improve existing ones, or concentrate resources instead of multiplying administrative and overhead costs?”
Perhaps, as with my own unsuccessful attempt to connect with Rosenman, Boomers have similarly found existing nonprofit organizations unwilling to engage.
Here are some questions that I think are far more constructive:
Why do so many Boomers feel that existing nonprofit organizations are incapable or unwilling to meet the societal needs that they see?
Why do so many Boomers think that the only solutions to the problems they’ve identified are to create new organizations rather than engage with existing ones?
Why would so many Boomers express an interest in putting in the extraordinary effort to start an organization from scratch instead of working with an existing organization?
How many of the 12 million Boomers in question are actually likely to follow through?
Is there a need for their efforts?
Will this wave of socially responsible entrepreneurialism spark an overall increase in philanthropy or will it simply take money away from existing organizations?
How can existing organizations tap into and leverage Boomer enthusiasm?
How can existing organizations best engage Boomers?
Are existing nonprofit organizations willing to embrace change?
Rosenman’s questions were limited and establishment focused. My questions are largely Boomer focused. Where I do not focus on Boomers, I ask questions about the role of the sector. As a sector, we need to be donor centered. We’ll only get to the right answers if we ask the correct questions. And, the best questions will always be focused on donors and other supporters rather than on preserving existing organizations.
To be fair to Rosenman, I will agree that Boomers should make an effort to work within existing structures, act collaboratively, and avoid inefficient duplication of effort. However, where no other organization exists with the same mission and where collaboration is not practical for whatever reason, I encourage Boomers to march boldly forward. Competition can be good. Fresh perspective and energy can be good. Innovative solutions that run counter to the establishment can be good. I applaud the proactive citizenship of Boomers.
So, does the U.S. really need more nonprofits? Yes, if they’re the right ones.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?