when donors and doers speak different languages

When For-Profit Language and Nonprofit Language Clash, on Evaluation

Communication is difficult between two tribes that don’t speak the same language.

Over here is the for-profit, business-oriented tribe. Over there is the nonprofit, mission-oriented tribe.

The for-profit tribe speaks the language of investment, results, competition, and ROI. The nonprofit tribe speaks the language of compassion, hope, transformation, human need, and human thriving.

These two tribes need to learn to talk with each other. The for-profit tribe feels a responsibility to give back from what they’ve gained, to help make a better world. The nonprofit tribe is dependent on the generosity of the for-profit tribe. They need each other.

Julia Morley, an accounting lecturer at the London School of Economics, did some research on this problem.

It comes up especially in the area of measurement and evaluation (M&E). The for-profit tribe wants to know exactly, in quantified terms, what has happened as a result of their donations. It wants to know the social ROI. It wants numbers. Morley’s research found that all this talk about numbers, quantification, results, and measurement tends to make nonprofit leaders and workers feel alienated, estranged from their values, uncomfortable, and unhappy. The for-profit tribe says, “We’re not being responsible if we don’t ask about clear, specific results.” The nonprofit tribe says, “You don’t understand; it’s just not like that; listen to the human stories.” Head vs. heart.

The way forward is for each tribe to patiently listen to each other, to listen for the purpose of understanding. For each tribe to be humble enough to admit there are good things they can learn from the other. For each tribe to recognize their need for each other, from their different experiences and perspectives. For each tribe to be committed to healthy partnership with the other.

This is hard for the for-profit side, since they hold the money, and thus are in the position of power. This is hard for the nonprofit side, since it is indeed right, good, and fair for them to submit to evaluation, an exercise that will not just bring in funding but that will help them serve well; that will help them be good stewards of what is entrusted to them.

love, joy, peace … Michael

www.michaeljaffarian.com. Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation. emichaeljaffarian@gmail.com.

Vol. 1 No. 34