Not for profits are often not very business like in their management — which on the one hand is understandable given the unprofitability of their missions yet on the other it’s unfortunate because when times are tough people need them more than ever yet during those times their lack of financial savvy can make them their own worst enemy. That being said there are a couple of outstanding examples of business minded non-profits in our area that think and strategize like a business but serve unmet community needs like a non profit.
These guys are the best I’ve seen when it comes to blending the best of the business sector with the best of the public/non profit service sector: Coleman Professional Services and Family and Community Services. Under the leadership of Nelson Burns and Mark Frisone these agencies have defied conventional non profit thought and redefined how not for profits serve their customers.
I admire not just what these agencies do but how they do it. They are a credit to the public sector and they’re living examples of why you should never underestimate the power of a non profit engine fueled by market based tactics. As a public manager myself I have spent much of my career studying how progressive cities have learned from folks like Nelson and Mark, to reinvent themselves by applying business principles to manage communities.
Here in Kent we have taken steps to improve our market position, think strategically, strengthen our brand, and cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit. We have established cost and performance metrics to calculate rate of return and optimize return on investment through sound valuation and capitalization strategies. Employees are expected to demonstrate critical thinking to manage cash flow, expand operating margins, drive productivity and inspire innovation.
As our resources have been stretched, we’ve adopted on-demand, just-in-time production concepts to service delivery. We have improved R&D capabilities – learning how to push and scale good ideas through the pipeline – overcoming barriers to entry and sustaining a competitive advantage.
The business model has taught Kent how to think and act like a business – but business has but one mission: to make a profit. The City’s mission is a bit more complicated. Businesses choose which markets to compete in and which customers to keep – while cities serve all equally.
The business doctrine proclaims the market king and reduces performance to a bottom line – but communities are more than profit and loss statements. Business methods are great for evaluating means to ends but offer little for determining what ends – and communities are ends, not means. We risk knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing when we live solely by the numbers.
Community building is not an exercise in mathematics; it’s the story of people. Kent may have a new business attitude but it will always act with the heart of a city. The market is great at distribution of private goods but where does that leave the public good? In the good hands of Kent city employees.
Here’s a good example of tracking progress towards strategic goals that the National Main Street organization requires of each of it’s affiliates, including Main Street Kent, to submit quarterly summaries of business activities.