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September 30, 2007


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The Nonprofiteer

Albert, Bless you for calling this pseudo-science by its name. The only thing we really know about nonprofit successes is that they're infuriatingly hard to scale up: once the original inspired person is removed from the equation, the naked idea proves to have relatively little staying power or transferability. That doesn't mean we shouldn't go on trying to figure out what IS transferable, but it does mean we shouldn't take assertions of duplicability without several tons of salt.

Tidy Sum

Reminds me of a classic Monte Python sketch:

How to Tell a Witch...

Villager: We have found a witch, may we burn her?


Bedevere: But how do you *know* she is a witch?

Villager: She looks like one!

Other Villagers: Yeah! She looks like one!!!

Bedevere: Bring her forward...

Read the entire script at: http://wuzzle.org/cave/mpwit.html

"Nothing like a little medieval logic lesson". --Zaratyst


nothing like indulging our size (a.k.a. scalability) fetish.

Angie L.

A great read, thanks.


What a terrific essay.

In my experience there are often two underlying assumptions that are not explicitly stated: 1) The ideal size for a nonprofit is "bigger"; and 2) it is possible to distill and standardize complex aspects of human nature so that they can be replicated.

It's hard to talk about well-managed organizations without making a list, but I wish our sector handled it more like nutrition. It's not that that there is a perfect diet of 6 items that everyone should eat in identical amounts. It's watching a group of monkeys play, socialize, fight, eat, sleep, and defecate to figure out whether they're generally healthy or not.


I think you're on to something. If we really want to understand what makes nonprofit organizations successful, we would do better to hire a multidisciplinary team of researchers headed by a cultural anthropologist. Let them watch staff and board meetings through a two-way mirror.

The scalability thing is also tiresome. Those who are lucky enough to have the means often choose to attend small liberal arts colleges instead of large state universities. We prefer intimate restaurants over sprawling, noisy cafeterias. Why are we so eager to subject poor people to scaled organizations?


“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

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