One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for March 2013

Non-Profits & The Business of Social Good

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C Now - DePaulRecently, I found myself involved in a discussion on a Facebook group focusing on comments made in a recent TED talk and in another person’s blog post. It leads me to the topic of today’s blog, which is Who drives social good more effectively – non-profits or private business?

It’s a question that has a major impact in Chicago – after all, we have a thriving non-profit community, as well as a growing interest in social
entrepreneurship and social ventures
(and admittedly, I have an interest in both sides). It may not sound like much of a conflict, but allow me to try to outline the arguments on both sides:

  • Non-Profits enjoy kind of a unique status – because of their business
    structure, they can focus primarily on education and advocacy but lose some key benefits (such as the ability to lobby directly). Non-profits also have unique financial reporting requirements, and can focus less on meeting shareholder and profit requirements and more on promoting a mission. (It does not mean that non-profits can’t make money – only that any ‘profit’ goes back into its programming). Non-profits often find themselves working with minimal resources, focusing on fundraising and donor cultivation, and often believing that because they are uniquely mission-focused, they do not have to
    necessarily focus on the “business” side of their agency.
  • Social Ventures and Social Enterprises, which are businesses that have a socially beneficial mission, are the up-and-comer. There are a variety of unique business structures (such as the L3C and the B Corporation) that allow them greater flexibility, and unlike non-profits, they can focus more on stakeholder and profit requirements. Unlike non-profits, however, a social venture’s “mission” might be more tenuous, seen as primarily a way to gain credibility rather than out of a sense of community. Businesses are regarded with a certain level of skepticism….and therefore, even socially-minded businesses and enterprises are seen with a higher level of disdain.

These issues have been at the forefront of my mind – not just as a person with professional interests, but also as a job seeker, inspired in part by this article on “cheating” in social media. From my perspective, well….I have a slightly unique perspective, offered in the spirit of driving further consideration and conversation.

Businesses can do several things that non-profits can’t do, and non-profits can do things businesses can’t do. Both businesses and non-profits tend to believe themselves to be “terminally unique”, somehow so special that they feel slightly detached from normal rules of engagement. When it comes to driving social good and social benefit, neither entity has a monopoly on driving beneficial causes – that every organization, regardless of business type or IRS status, has a particular role to play, and that perhaps the issue isn’t “What makes businesses more beneficial than non-profits?” or “What makes non-profits more beneficial than businesses?”, but “How can non-profits and businesses collaborate and cross-pollinate each other’s best practices in driving the greatest social benefit for everyone?”.

It’s not an easy question, to be sure, nor is it one that has an easy answer (although Dan Palotta seems to be thinking along similar lines to my own)….but it’s worth further discussion. Who would have thought that Facebook might lead to deep conversation and consideration?

Any thoughts? Please feel free to leave them below, and if you wish to contact me personally, please feel free to do so either via Linked In (please 
mention Chicago Now in your note) or my web page contact form. And as always – thanks for reading!


B Is For Blogging

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Blogging is the one social media activity that drives consumer and user recommendations. It is probably the “easiest” of all social media to master….and yet, many non-profits and social benefit agents are intimidated by it.

Yes, blogging is a challenge – creating unique essays and written content on a regular basis seems daunting, especially when done in balance with other online and offline activites. So as part of a semi-occuring feature on this blog, we will focus on strategies and recommendations that can allow people to feel more comfortable in using these challenges. And so, without further discussion, let’s move into the “Bs of Blogging”.

  • Be Prepared – With many blogging and web site platforms (such as WordPress, Blogger, Weebly, and Squarespace) available to users, it may be wise to do some research to find the platform that works best for you and/or your organization. (After all, blogging takes consistent time and effort,
    and the platform that makes it easier for you to maintain that consistency is the one that is the “best” platform). You also might want to pick up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style as a way to brush up on grammar and proper punctuation.
  • Be Consistent – Whether you post daily or weekly, try to stick to a set schedule of posting to the blog. Blog posts may take anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half to write (based on content, finding appropriate backup links, etc), and the strategy should be that even if you only post once a week at the minimum….you or your organization is posting consistently.
  • Be Personable Yet Professional – For some, social media is a way to demonstrate that you are a “subject matter expert”. For others, the important thing is to be “human”. In all social media – even in blogging, and especially when you’re posting on behalf of an organization – you need to mix
    both qualities. People want to feel as if your organization has a “personality” of sorts (in marketing, this may be referred to as a “brand experience”), but it is also important that you write in a way that makes your organization stand out. If you are blogging on behalf of a non-profit and/or social venture, you
    understand precisely what the organization is about, and you have an opportunity to place your best foot forward
  • Be Willing To Research – Once you are blogging, you may read and/or hear terms such as “RSS”, “Search Engine Optimization” and/or “Blogger Disclosure Guidelines”. There are plenty of free online resources that can help educate and inform your practice. (Hubspot is a great example, containing numerous resources on a variety of social media and marketing channels).
    Don’t be afraid to spend some time researching and learning – most of these resources are written in plain English, and quite honestly, will provide great value in your efforts.
  • Be Visual – Whether you embed a YouTube video or photo to liven your post, increasingly research is finding that visual media drive engagement and exposure. Feel free to stay text-based if you must, but to make your posts more vibrant, attaching visual media helps insure that people read your post.
  • Be Sociable and Relatable – Once your post is live, it now becomes a great resource to inform others about your mission. Share it on your social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. (Don’t be so quick to dismiss Google Plus – that channel provides greater visibility for search). And since your organization is looking to be personable and professional, this becomes another way to maintain that consistency of tone.

Hopefully, you now have a basic how-to in terms of thinking about blogging, and are hopefully motivated to begin considering it. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them below, or you can send me a note either via Linked In or my web site’s contact page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

March 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

SOBCon: The Argument for Non-Profits

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Non-profits, by their very nature, combine the best of small and medium-sized
business thinking and entrepreneurship. Working within limited means, creatively
utilizing resources…there is much they could learn from their private sector cousins.

Which is why I’m strongly recommending anyone in the non-profit arena attend
SOBCon 2013. (Well, that and my friend and colleague Liz Strauss asked me very politely)

An excellent learning forum for small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, SOBCon does feature some non-profit specific content, most notably “Give Back Sunday.” However, the conference focuses on how to be a “person-centered” business. Mastermind sessions, networking opportunities with other businesses….non-profits would benefit from the opportunities to drive their mission, integrating both the hard “business” skills with softer, more mission (and person) specific skills.

But ultimately, Chicago non-profits need to immerse themselves and become more business-like. In a realm where resources are stretched, and with an increase
in social ventures in the state
, it is becoming increasingly critical that non-profits begin to see themselves in not-quite-so-warm-and-fuzzy terms. (And I’ve made this point before in my review of The Mission Myth). Non-profits are like any other business despite their unique status in wanting to reach key audiences. SOBCon 2013 is a great opportunity to do so, allowing non-profit attendees to not only bring their unique person-centered approach, but also learn several critical skills that would allow them to better advocate their mission while balancing the day-to-day “business” of staying open.

For more information – and to register – please visit It may seem a little out of reach for some agencies, but something to consider – is your mission worth it? And if so, wouldn’t it be good to share that mission with some potential allies?

Thanks, as always, for reading – if you have comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below. If you would like to reach out to me directly, you can do so either via my Linked In profile (please mention Chicago Now when reaching out) or directly via my web site’s contact form.

Written by gordondym

March 7, 2013 at 8:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized