Nonprofits act as mediators that connect different groups of people in order to build positive social change
Nonprofit means different things to different people. If you asked 15 people what is the first thing that pops into their head when you say nonprofit you would probably hear things like, 'donation, clean water, poverty, Africa, hunger, natural disaster, or medical services.' Probably the largest role a nonprofit organization plays is nowhere to be found on this list. In fact few people even realize that nonprofits' role as mediator is what allows them to exist.
The primary purpose of a nonprofit organization is to connect two very different groups of people together in order to create a mutually beneficial relationship. In the simplest terms nonprofits bring donors and recipients together in order to create a better world.
Don't let this simplified statement fool you though, being the mediator that brings two groups of people together isn't a walk in the park.
Take Design Cause's current project. Even in the early design phase I was having trouble delivering a design that the community in Cameroon loved and that my teachers, fellow students, and potential donors liked. In a vastly different part of the world taste are not the same and I felt like I was caught between doing what the community needs and wants and what would entice enough money to make the project a reality. In the end it was really up to me, as the mediator, to figure out what is best. In the end the design blends the wishes of both parties. Many of the materials would not be an American architect's choice but it was what the community in Cameroon wanted and asked for. The roof is something that no one in the village had ever seen before but it was enticing to my teachers and potential donors, and provided increased ventilation which was a critical component of the design.
This example has very clear cut differences between the two groups which makes the challenges much easier to understand. But for many nonprofits the groups aren't as different and the role as mediator is much more nuanced. Organizations providing assistance to the homeless in your neighborhood or working with the LGBT community face a more complicated role as mediator. There isn't an ocean, a language barrier, and huge cultural differences to overcome but that doesn't make the job any easier. In both situations the nonprofit is working to bring the two different groups of people together in order to provide real world assistance to one and emotional, spiritual assistance to the other.
While being the mediator isn't an easy job it can be very fulfilling when things finally come together. No one said doing the work of a nonprofit was easy, but you can find tons of people who will tell you its fulfilling. The achievement of being able to make two groups of people happy at the end of the day is one of the things that makes nonprofit work different from For-Profit work. In many ways it is nonprofits' willingness to be the mediator that makes them a special sort of business entity.
Just as many people don't realize that nonprofits act as mediators, I think many people don't realize that the term nonprofit isn't an appropriate name for the work these organizations do. The term nonprofit immediately implies that its what these organizations don't do that defines them. Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise, felt the same way and has renamed nonprofits as For-Purpose. This immediately shifts the first impression from a negative connotation to a positive one. It also implies that the organization is working to find a solution to an important, meaningful issue that doesn't have a simple solution. This new name tells a much more complete picture of what nonprofit organizations do, and the complex mediator roles they have trying to solve some of the globe's most pressing issues.
I look forward to the day that we look up nonprofit in the dictionary and instead of saying
"not making or conducted primarily to make a profit."
"Renamed For-Purpose. These organizations act as mediators that bring different groups of people together to create positive social change in the world."