Monday, December 21, 2009

Competition is Good

There was a nice piece by Becky Graninger at Donor Power Blog recently about how there should be more cooperation among nonprofits.

Becky’s position is unassailable and I agree completely.


I also believe that nonprofits should be more competitive with one another.

The competition, of course, should be fair and high minded.  I never disparage other nonprofits, and unless another group is doing something truly egregious, I don’t think anyone ever should.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to outdo one another, even while we continue to work together wherever possible.

The competition should extend to all elements of what we do – not only fundraising (my favorite, of course), but also service provision, marketing, transparency of our finances, etc.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a multi-day workshop on strategy conducted by two Stanford Business School professors.  (Actually, the first day – when we talked about business – was the most pleasurable.  Once we started to talk about nonprofits, which the instructors seemed to know only in theory, I got pretty frustrated.) 

What was most exciting to me was learning about how businesses, at least ideally, move forward by assessing their position among their competitors, figure out their competitive advantages, and then allocate their resources accordingly.

In other words, they are driven by their desire to beat the other guys.  It strikes me that that’s a pretty basic human impulse.  It explains why we watch the Olympics, professional sports, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.  (It doesn’t explain why I watch the Jets, but that’s another story.)

We in the nonprofit world, on the other hand, don’t really think about beating the other guy.  The very suggestion seems a little vulgar. 

But I think we should.  As long as the competition remains fair and constructive, it will force us to be better.
Here’s a concrete example.  As virtually everyone in the nonprofit world knows, Chase is running a Facebook contest through which it will distribute a few million dollars.    (This contest has encountered some controversy, which is considered intelligently in a recent posting on Beth's Blog.)
Whatever its shortcomings, I think it was pretty exciting that hundreds of thousands of charities were engaged in the first round of a fun and open (sort of) competition for some significant cash.
For those of us who didn’t make it to the final 100, we’ve learned that we have room for improvement when it comes to mobilizing our online supporters.  And there’s no hiding behind bromides about how people don’t like to use social media for philanthropy, since 100 organizations are $25,000 richer thanks to the quality and size of their contact lists, their creativity and their aggressiveness.

I think every nonprofit organization with a big enough budget to have its own Website should be disappointed to have lost that competition, and should be figuring out how to expand its online reach exponentially.

Because winning is more fun.

1 comment:

  1. You have the a great attitude about this and important for social media. You have to look at what you do and figure out how to improve. That's the problem - many try once and then say it doesn't work. But you need to ask why and use that insight and reflection to do better the next time.

    Beth Kanter