Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Profit or Purpose?

Nonprofit organizations are led by a vision. To Write Love on Her Arms, Inc.’s mission statement is “presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.” Their mission leads their movement. At the core of their different programs, fundraising campaigns, and merchandise sales, they must adhere to that stated purpose. Unlike the business sector, their goal is not solely to make a profit. They are directed by a group of diverse individuals that make up a board of directors. Nonprofits depend on their boards to navigate where they’re going and how they get there.

An example of the interplay of sectors is the American Giving Awards hosted by Chase. In December 2011, TWLOHA was awarded a $1 million grant from Chase. This act was “the first-ever televised celebrity tribute to community heroes that offered five charities an opportunity to receive grants based on the number of online votes in support of their organization.” (BusinessWire, 2011) This generated a massive amount of attention for Chase and for the nonprofits competing for the funds. I remember seeing social media full of friends promoting the nonprofits they were most passionate about for a variety of reasons. I had discovered TWLOHA shortly after I lost a friend in high school to suicide so it was my nonprofit of choice. I recall wondering why Chase would offer this type of donation when its own purpose wasn’t to promote any of these social causes. I now reflect on the idea of “corporate social responsibility” and have a better understanding of what all that was about. As stated in “Doing ‘Good’ vs. Doing ‘Well’”, business executives “have come to realize the value and importance of accepting and fulfilling a responsibility to their communities. This recognition, however truly held, is not the internal organizational distillate of altruism. Rather, it is the consequence of appreciating what is in the real, long-run self-interest of business.” (Berman, 2002) The business as a whole will benefit financially by giving back to its community. It may seem obvious that if businesses can help meet a need, consequently the people in a community will be better off and a stable economy will be possible.

So what happened after this $1 million? TWLOHA put its mission into action. “Contributions, while necessary, are in and of themselves inert. The catalyst that gives them direction, that turns them into specific actions and programs, is found in the nonprofit sector.” (Berman, 2002) The Chase award helped TWLOHA give birth to Heavy and Light: An Evening of Songs, Conversation, and Hope in 17 cities across America. Nonprofits have the freedom to think creatively and be responsive to needs in the context of their own communities. The Heavy and Light events connected attendees to resources they might not have otherwise known about. TWLOHA staff and volunteers worked to compile mental health resource guides and networked with local agencies to offer services at events.

Volunteers for a nonprofit carry much of the weight of the organization. It is integral to its productivity that volunteers are recruited, trained, and maintained intentionally. Similarly to the way the business and government sectors pay employees, volunteers must also receive benefits for the work they put in. TWLOHA requires that volunteers, for any of their programs, apply and interview for their positions. They are then compassionately supervised, constantly being reminded that they are a part of this movement and a part of something bigger than themselves. And sometimes that can be incentive enough.  

Berman, Howard J. Doing “Good” vs. Doing “Well”: The Role of Nonprofits in Society. The
McNerney Forum: Spring 2002.
BusinessWire article