Culture Leadership

Seth’s Problem With Non

Disclaimer: I don’t often paste the majority of someone else’s blog post as an entry at OnLeadingWell. In rare cases the insights gained are profound and irreducible. For those of us working in the non-profit sector who passionately desire to change the world but struggle to change the personnel on our team (or even rearrange the office furniture) due to anticipated backlash, this post from Seth Godin’s rafter-shaking blog is for us. Thanks, Seth, for a much needed kick in the pants.

The problem with non

Non as in non-profit.

The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?

Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It’s because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn’t right or good enough for you… there’s an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.

These organizations exist solely to make change. That’s why you joined, isn’t it?

The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?

Beth has a great post about the feeling of vertigo that non-profits get when they move from the firm ground of the tried and true to the anti-gravity that comes from leaping into change.

Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It’s easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique.

Of course, some folks, like charity: water are stepping into the void and raising millions of dollars as a result. They’re not necessarily a better cause, they’re just more passionate about making change.

A few years ago I met with two (very famous) non-profits to discuss permission marketing and online fundraising and how they might have an impact. Each time, the president of the group was in the room. After about forty five minutes, the meetings devolved into endless lists of why any change at all in the way things were was absolutely impossible. Everyone looked to the president of the group for leadership, and when he didn’t say anything, they dissembled, stalled and evaded. Every barrier was insurmountable, every element of the status quo was cast in stone.  The president of the group was (he thought) helpless.

When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there’s that word again) that blew you away?

Please don’t tell me it’s about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don’t have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you’re not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.

If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you’ll find thousands of case studies of small (and large)  innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.

The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn’t tell. Because they’re ‘non’ first, change second.

Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

3 replies on “Seth’s Problem With Non”

Ken (and Seth), great post! Thanks for putting this out there and pointing out the irony of the whole situation. Hopefully you will soon see Keynote atop the Twitter follower lists! Thanks for the inspiration.

Hi Ken, I’m an accidental tourist to your site (LinkedIn gave me a chance to look you up after I linked to Brad Files, do you know Brad?) and I just read Seth’s piece. I realize you posted it because it’s provacative though not necessarily prescriptive. Change for change’s sake isn’t what it’s all about, but you know that. I’m always trying to look past someone’s words to guess their real agenda, so before I looked him up, I guessed: “Seth wants to make a buck selling marketing to someone.” I Googled him, I was right. So he thinks everyone is failing until they use his marketing plan. May I say, this guy just isn’t all there? About Twitter he says it’s “…one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action.” No sir! It’s mere celebrity gossip to fill empty lives. Whoever wants to be in Twitter’s top 100, wants as vapid a life as possible. I don’t want to get too overblown in my analysis of Seth but he’s selling popularism and not real leadership. Leadership isn’t instant, it isn’t very popular, and it isn’t marketable. It sells itself because it produces. If it needs marketing, it ain’t leadership ~ it’s popularship. There, I coined a term. But I’m not going to start a blog to knock marketers and score bucks on my new hip term-creating. Looks like you’re with Crusade to help with leadership: that’s great. To have that job for that organization is a wonderful thing. Keep up the good work. ~ Dave

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