There is an ongoing debate in the nonprofit universe that goes a little something like this:
“The problem with nonprofits is that they should be run like businesses.”
“But nonprofits can’t be run like businesses because their bottom line is different.”
This nonprofit bottom line is often referred to as the “triple bottom line” – and many for-profit businesses and government entities have adopted it, as well. In addition to monetary profits, the triple bottom line includes social and ecological benefit (Elkington 1994). This concept allows organization leaders to measure success using additional sets of markers for a fuller picture of their impact.
After nearly 20 years in the sector and more than a decade with Habitat for Humanity, I have come to realize that even this expanding bottom line is missing something, and maybe it’s because that something is so difficult to measure. It’s fluffy and ethereal and difficult to get our arms around, and it’s one of the most overused words in the nonprofit realm: community.
A successful nonprofit should bring a sense of community that encompasses its donors, its volunteers, its clients and its staff – really, anyone who comes into contact with the organization. Everyone who touches the mission in any way should feel they are a part of it, that they both contribute to and benefit from the organization. Individual donors are a critical part of this community. A nonprofit might be quite successful in their mission and be funded entirely through fee for service and government subsidy, but they will never be able to create a true sense of community with the general public if they do not have financial participation – however small – from individual donors.
Colorado Gives Day, launched just five years ago in 2010 by the Community First Foundation in partnership with FirstBank, has proved critical in expanding the community impact of nonprofits across Colorado, engaging nearly 44,000 individuals in 2014. The initiative, which is an annual statewide movement to celebrate and increase philanthropy in Colorado through online giving, has generated more than $83 million in donations to nonprofits in a state with historically abysmal giving from individuals. But more important than this much-needed capital is the conduit that Colorado Gives Day has created between nonprofits and the people that support them – a connection that has developed true community within those organizations.
Habitat for Humanity does an exceptional job at adding community to its bottom line. While affiliates are building physical communities across Colorado, we also enjoy a thriving virtual community where everyone – our $5 donors, our mortgage-paying homeowners, our hammer-wielding volunteers – feels they are part of something larger than themselves. As screenwriter Randall Wallace said, “Habitat for Humanity is a perpetual motion miracle. Everyone who receives, gives — and everyone who gives, receives. If you want to stay complacent and uninspired, stay away from Habitat! Come close to Habitat and it will change you and make you a part of something that changes the world.”