Revisiting How We Talk About Nonprofits And My Conversation With StayClassy

I came across a piece I thought would serve as a great segway for a post I”ve meant to write for a while now. There”s been tons of articles discussing the unfair treatment exempt/social-benefit organization”s get in comparison to their for-profit counterparts. Specifically, in Business Can”t Solve the World”s Problems- But Capitalism Can the author argues that the principles of capitalism should apply to exempt/social-benefit organization”s just as they apply to what we think of as a “traditional business.”  But society”s inability to translate simple capitalistic principles (like investing in overhead, tolerating risk and diversification) has stifled innovation, scaling and acceleration of organization”s trying to solve global issues.

Though sympathetic to all his points, and in agreement with more than one, what has bothered me about pieces on this subject is quite a few treat a “traditional business” and  an “exempt/social-benefit organization” as preclusive of one another. As if there”s “traditional business”…..and then there”s those otha” organizations; that are kinda like a “traditional business” but not quite. And by framing it this way, to me authors effectively say, “Alright, alright. You got us. They are different. Much different. But…but… you shouldn”t treat them like they are. They should be treated the same!”

In reality, don”t “traditional business” and exempt/social benefit organization”s  fall under the umbrella of an “enterprise” or “venture”?

When we speak of exempt/social-benefit organization”s as an off-shoot of “traditional business” don”t we inherently subrogate them; forcing them to come in second? Not only that, but doesn”t framing them this way make it easier to justify handling exempt/social benefit organization”s differently? If we were to talk about exempt/social-benefit organization”s as the enterprises and ventures they are wouldn”t that eliminate the artificial divider; making it much easier to understand why they should be on equal footing and given equal treatment?

For me, the key is to stop checking the “other” box when referring to these organizations and start referring to them as a type of venture. Just as a for-profit business is a type of venture.

Which is why I adore StayClassy.

I had the privilege of briefly speaking with one of its founders (Pat Walsh) and have made  it my life”s mission to write up the conversation because I feel their outlook is such an important one.

The thing I love most about StayClassy is that it doesn”t treat exempt organizations like the philanthropical step-brother of a”traditional business.” If you look through its blog (which I suggest you do) you”ll see posts on many of the same things (for example pivoting and usability) that you”d see in a major business blog. And by treating exempt organizations as start-up”s (note I didn”t say “like”but “as”), StayClassy has assisted in creating a culture of fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability in organization”s across the country.

We talked about this and a couple of other things, briefly replicated below…..

Me: What benefits do nonprofits gain, particularly legal benefits, by using a fundraising platform?

PW: There are a couple. Organizations gain the ability  to process donations from a secured system, have donor information readily available for tax and deduction purposes, donor information is protected by encryption and there is segregated accounting.

Me: What differentiates StayClassy from some of the  other software out there available to  nonprofits?

PW: StayClassy builds software that supports the backend of  a nonprofit. We help organization”s put a strong infrastructure and fundraising process in place. And because nonprofits are our target market, we”re able to build with them in mind. Which means we keep flexibility at the forefront of development. Not only are features tailored to address common issues nonprofits face, but the software is built so that organization”s can use just the CRM component,  the event component or  use the whole suite of software if they”d like.  And we”re continously gauging how the product is being used to ensure its efficient, responsive and effective.

Me: Ok, so one of the things I love about your website is the blog and the fact that it promotes the start-up mentality. What made you take that position?

PW: I”m happy you keyed in on that. That”s because we believe nonprofits are start-up”s. And we want to get organizations thinking about risk, liability, transparency and accountability just as you would expect from the “traditional” start-up. Having pivoted several times in our own organization, we”re huge fans of models and not just throwing things against the wall. Our goal is help nonprofits understand this and give them the educational resources to assist with figuring everything out.

Me: I also saw that you all created something called the Classy Awards, what is that?

PW: Though transparency can mean so many different things to different organizations, this is where we recognize and herald organizations for their innovation and leadership in creating transparency within the organization. Specifically, financial transparency. The field of winners is so comprehensive and includes organizations from all over the country.

Me: What last words would you like to leave organizations with?

PW: Our product powers efficient organizations and the awards highlight them. We”re all about innovative tools for nonprofits.

If you get a chance, be sure to check out their website and definitely take a look at the blog. Also be on the lookout for the next Classy Awards, and be sure to nominate a deserving organization.