This is for my Corporates. Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

This is Lesson 5 in the This is for my Corporates Series.

Click for Lesson 1: Watch your Language, Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?, Lesson 3: What’s “The Field” Got to Do with It?, and Lesson 4: People are not Props.

If you happen to be a big manager at the head office of a big non-profit organization, and you’ve been brought in from the corporate sector to show those wishy-washy bleeding heart non-profit suckas how it’s done, this series* is for you.

Lesson 5: Purpose Motivation is stronger than Profit Motivation

As different as the corporate and non-profit sectors are, and as hard as it is to get us to change and see the corporate light, you’re going to have to work with us if you plan on sticking around at a non-profit.

We got connections. We got social capital. We got experience in the field. A lot of us actually really do know what we are doing. Plus, we’re your access point for your donor magazine stories and your PR photos. If you learn how to talk with us… if you spend some time on the ground understanding that the challenges we face are not simple and that the root of the challenges is not our lack of a corporate mentality… if you remember to see that the bigger goal is the VISION not the MONEY… if you avoid exploiting the people in communities where we work for your marketing campaigns, we will probably get along just fine after the initial hiccups.

If you leave your ego at the door and come in to learn and converse rather than demand and mandate, people will eventually welcome you. We’ll learn some of your corporate ways too, we’ll blend them with our non-profit ways, and we’ll do even more quality work, all of us together.

Well, that’s my logic anyway.

But if you’re still thinking that what a non-profit needs is a good corporate shake up, some good old fashioned business models, then watch this video The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s based on Dan Pink’s book Drive, and it speaks in a language that may be closer to corporate speak than what I’m capable of.

Pink writes that that for simple, straightforward tasks, the old model, the carrot and stick idea works; paying people a reward to do better works. But when a task gets more complicated and requires conceptual and creative thinking, those kind of motivators don’t work. (Note: He says that you should pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table and allow people to focus on the work itself, which I totally agree with.)

Skip to minute 5 of the video for Pink’s conclusions.  He says that there are 3 factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery and purpose. He says that more and more, businesses and organizations want to have a “transcendent purpose” because it makes coming to work better and is a way to get better talent.

He says that “When the profit motive becomes un-moored from the purpose motive, bad things happen.” “When the profit motive becomes unhitched from the purpose motive, people don’t do great things.” “Companies that are flourishing are animated by purpose.”

The majority of work that non-profit employees (except perhaps the finance and administration departments) do is not factory work. Not repetitive. Not mechanical. The majority of our work is relationship building, knowledge management, co-designing and complex problem solving. And we already have a purpose. That purpose is what brought most of us to work at the organization. We have a vision we are working towards, and it’s a lofty one.

So, considering that autonomy, mastery and purpose are what seem to motivate people. Considering that purpose motivation makes for better outcomes. Ask yourself: Are you actually killing off one of the best things your non-profit had going for it? Are you dooming the organization that you’ve come in to improve because you are shifting the organization’s focus from the vision to the money, and you are making profit motivation overshadow our existing purpose motivation?

Why would you want to do that?


More Lessons in the This is for my Corporates series:

Lesson 1: Watch your language

Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

Lesson 3: What’s “the Field” got to do with it?

Lesson 4: People are not props

Lesson 6: Win-win or forced marriage?

Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout

*The Lessons here are based on carefully recorded participant/observation sessions among myself and subjects working in a variety of non-profit settings. In order to qualify as a “Lesson Topic” each conversation point must have been heard at least a dozen times per year over a 15 year period. New Lesson Topics are being compounded daily. If you would like to suggest a topic, hit me up.


About Shotgun Shack

INGO worker hailing from the crossroads of America, and so far from home in so many ways. I blog about life and the depths and ironies of INGO work. View all posts by Shotgun Shack

One response to “This is for my Corporates. Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: