Avoiding Being a Social Change Blocker


“Nonprofits are losing their monopoly as the most effective agents of social change”. That’s the contention of Paul Klein who argues that unless not for profits ditch their “slow-moving, institutional, and self-interested model” they will loose their relevance as change agents and be replaced by committed corporates and social enterprises .

As Paul points out, as a consequence of “a combination of increased awareness, new technology, adequate funding, and more collaboration among corporations, civil society, and governments has created a context where effective social change is possible”.

And it seems that this point is not being lost on more and more funders as they rightly ask “how come we can connect more than 2 million people to the internet but let 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night?”  The conclusion being that if the traditional delivery models aren’t working we need to change them – and quickly!

As more and more major funders question the effectiveness of so many social change programs currently underway, it appears that the view is that a better solution lies in models that have three core values:


If you have worked in the NFP sector you will know just how possessive and secretive many organisations can be. This is largely because of the fierce competition for funding dollars, but it is a behaviour that will ultimately be the death knell of many. As a sector we must come to realise that so many issues are of a scale and complexity that no one sector can solve. Those organisations that learn to identify, engage with and successfully collaborate with people, institutions, corporations and governments that can help advance their cause will be the survivors of tomorrow. As Paul Klein quotes Sir Richard Branson as saying when asked about how the nonprofit model needs to change:

“More collaborative efforts. We need the collective efforts of countries and companies to step up and play their part—setting strong goals, having clear plans, and openly demonstrating progress.”


Funders are being increasingly attracted to forward looking organisations that have an appetite for risk. No longer is the claim “we help 5 children a day” cutting it. Rather funders are rightly wanting to hear ” we currently help 5 children a day, and by introducing this new initiative we aim to create an environment where there are no children in need“. For funders, the status quo is no longer attractive. They recognise that the innovation that flows from a “do whatever it takes” approach was a key to their success and are beginning to demand the same from the NFP sector.


When moving from the corporate to the not for profit sector probably the biggest cultural difference that struck me centred on urgency – or a lack of it. In the corporate and government sectors everything seemed to focus on deadlines. In the not for profit sector the future is mostly open ended. There are no nasty deadlines to solve youth homelessness in a community or to find a cure for Brain Cancer. As a sector we do our best then put our hand out at the end of the year to be funded for another term based on the claim that we have done some good. Paul Klein, sounds a warning, however, that this “manana” attitude is coming to an end…

“The new imperative for nonprofits that are addressing solvable issues is to plan for their own obsolescence. Planning to put a nonprofit organization out of business won’t be easy. However, it would be a bold way to way to mobilize action and galvanize support—especially from funders who know that solutions are possible, and view the systemic and human costs of inertia as unacceptable”.

If your organisation is dealing with a problem that is not intractable and if you are not already doing it, it may be wise to collaborate with other sectors, focus on game-changing initiatives and even develop your own exit strategy from the field. If you don’t, someone might be developing one for you.

By Chris Gandy – Chris is the Founder & Principal of Cause & Effective. Our cause is to assist cause-based organisations to more effectively deliver on their cause.


About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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