Blog: Michael Tyson

With nearly 50,000 nonprofits in Michigan and charitable giving falling 11% in 2009, competition for funding is prickly out there. Michael Tyson, president and CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), suggests these organizations should unify and share resources in order to meet their double bottom lines of money and mission.

Post 3: The Nonprofit Utopia

As John Lennon said, "You may say I'm a dreamer…but I'm not the only one."  I believe that a 'nonprofit utopia' could exist, and that the time is ripe for it to begin in Metro Detroit.  We are at a critical juncture.  We are working to redefine ourselves, and to emerge leaner and meaner, and yes even greener (as in eco-friendly).  Shared resources, collaboration, and creative synergy could exist in the nonprofit community –and beyond – in and between Metro Detroit communities, including the city of Detroit.  Being a visionary is about imagining the possibilities, closing your eyes and envisioning how nonprofits in Metro Detroit could work together to achieve even greater success than they do currently.  But what would or could that look like?  And how would it work?

The truth is, some of this is already happening through shared efforts and collaboration.   Shared accounting and human resources duties exist already between nonprofits in our area.   Shared office space and resources for organizations is in existence right here at NEW.  There may be other collaborative efforts going on currently that are not public knowledge – or are at least unknown to most of us.

More could be done in collaboration in terms of information technology (IT),  allowing nonprofit organizations to share documents, best practices, and software applications.  The technology exists to allow this to happen.  All it would take is recognizing the benefit of the collaboration, and reaching an agreement.  It may be easier said than done, but it is possible.  Shared IT professionals could manage servers, websites, and networks for multiple organizations.

It would be necessary to find funders, philanthropists, etc. who are willing to support "back office" sharing and capacity building, crucial to making this successful.  Getting the people who write the checks to buy into the vision would be key!

The potential impact on the Metro Detroit area if an effective nonprofit resource-sharing network were to be developed is immeasurable.  Streamlining the work we as nonprofits do and eliminating redundancy of missions could make for a more productive, dynamic and powerful nonprofit sector in Southeastern Michigan.  There are nearly 50,000 nonprofits in the state.  Until the economy improves, the competition for funding is extremely high.  This makes the entire sector vulnerable.  Donors' dollars could be used more efficiently and effectively.   The focus on fiduciary responsibility is vital to the survival of nonprofits, and the ability to use those dollars more effectively and efficiently would certainly appeal to those who are giving them.  We have a duty to mission and money and that includes respecting what donors want.

Are there things that NEW could do to be a catalyst to this vision?  Certainly there are.  What things is NEW currently doing toward this end?  NEW's strength is in governance and IT capacity building. These are especially important components to making improvements in the nonprofit sector. It is important, now more than ever, to have strong infrastructure. We can help improve operations so that nonprofits can focus on mission.  NEW also has the tools to help nonprofit boards focus on everything that has been discussed in this blog over the last three days!

In summary of the last three days of being a guest blogger here, I would like to say that I have enjoyed having this opportunity not only to tout the strengths of the company which I lead, but also to propose a bold vision of what could be, and to solicit input for getting there.

NEW uniquely understands the challenges of the nonprofit community. NEW is in the trenches with our clients.  We understand nonprofits because we are a nonprofit.  What makes us stand out is that we've embraced the philosophy that you can do good, make a difference AND make money doing it.  Other nonprofits have learned this valuable lesson.  Has yours?