What Do We Mean When We Say “Your Nonprofit?”

I avoid using the phrase “your nonprofit” because I think it sends the wrong message. Maybe I am overly cautious, but words are important and we must choose them carefully to avoid sending unintended messages.

Over the years, I have seen the bad things that can happen when a founder, executive director, or long-time member or donor feels that they “own” the nonprofit. I have seen individuals take control and make selfish decisions about how to spend the organization’s funds or how to dispose of its assets. So, to me, sending a message of ownership of a charity is just a bad idea. The people involved in a nonprofit, especially a charitable nonprofit, must think of themselves not as owners, but as trustees, entrusted with the duty of carrying out the mission of the nonprofit; entrusted with serving the community, group of individuals, or cause that the organization was formed to serve; entrusted with the duty of using the organization’s assets as wisely as possible to carry out the mission of the charity and the intent of the donors.

It makes sense to say to a friend or co-worker: “I like your shoes;” or “Is that your new car?” It is clear that the person who bought the shoes or car is the owner and has the right to give them away, sell them, or dispose of them as “junk.” I have the right to throw away a piece of clothing, but, just because I may be in a leadership position I do not have ownership rights.
So, if you hear the phrase “your nonprofit” (or use the phrase “my nonprofit”) know that the phrase comes with an important footnote that what you really mean is:

• the nonprofit that is entrusted to your care;
• the charitable mission that it is your responsibility to advance;
• the assets that are entrusted to your care to spend wisely and carefully to carry out the organization’s mission;
• the duty to work with the other members of the board, staff, committees or teams to ensure and effective nonprofit; and
• the duty to be faithful to donors who have given money and other assets to advance the cause or mission.

Have you discussed the meaning behind the phrase “your nonprofit?” What is your view on the issue?

Marion Gorton

Marion Gorton

Note: This post is authored by guest blogger Marion Gorton. Marion previously worked as a charitable trust administrator for the Michigan Department of the Attorney General, administering the office that oversees charities. Since retirement from the AG’s office in December 2005, she has worked at the Michigan Nonprofit Association as a program specialist and public policy specialist.

Photo credit: Flickr user mikebaird

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