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December 17, 2018

Good work does not always pay

“Just because you feel good, doesn’t make you right, oh no” – so goes the lyrics of Hedonism, catchy track from the band Skunk Annie, to which I am sure you all listen.

 The name Skunk Anansie is taken from the folklore of the Akann people of Ghana, featuring the spiderman Anansi. The band added "Skunk" to "make the name nastier".

 I’m adding this anthropological footnote because I hope that today’s column attracts the attention of the worthier members of our society – those good people who work in conservation, in aid, and in the world they describe as non-profit.

 For I have a message for them, from the world of for-profit. We’re not all good; we’re not all altruistic. But our agendas do create the environment in which the good work of worthies can be done. We create the corporations that can be raided for funding. The brand equities that engage broad populations. The busy and competent people who can be entreated to join boards; the networks that make things possible. The competencies – like marketing, or financial management or human resources – that the world of worthiness so keenly lacks.

 And the message is this: Just because you’re doing good, doesn’t make you good people.

 Indeed most of us in commerce find that you fall short of the mark. You struggle to describe your work accurately. You obfuscate financial results. You use words like partnership disingenuously. You expect others to contribute for free, or you welch on the deal. You never say thank you and mean it.

 These are just a few of the behaviours that we in commerce observe in the world of non- profit. If you don’t believe me, commission some research. And pay for it.

 Good works are needed in a bad world, so it’s surely time for non-profiteers to consider business people a target audience, and to develop a strategy for engaging them. All good strategies are built on insight, so I’d offer this as a starting point. Moral obligation will no longer be helpful to you. It make us feel bad, and frankly we’re a bit tired of it.

 Find something better. Something inspiring. Try building a community around your project. A community of competent people who like spending time with you. Who delight in any evidence of your success. Who promote you to others because they are proud of the association.

 Build yourself brands that are more than logos on your websites or stickers on your donated 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Make them about what you do, and the way you do it. Share those brands with your local staff, and encourage them to deliver on your brand promises.

 In most cases, we in commerce admire what you do; we just don’t like the way you behave.

 So, perhaps it's time for a little healthy introspection.

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