It is not a secret that in the for-profit sector, the purpose of the work is to make profit. Thus the name “for” profit. There are shades of qualifications behind this reality that people use to make it sound less greedy. Such as “my work is important…. I do a good job… or my product will change lives”. But the bottom line is…the bottom line.
The purpose of a non-profit’s existence is not the bottom line and it is varied from one organization to another. It may be to advocate the change of a social ill, sometimes it exists to give individuals skills, other times it is just to provide a service that is needed because nobody else is addressing that need or it is not cost-effective to provide it from a for-profit point of view.
The motivation behind why somebody works in or volunteers for a non-profit are also not as clear-cut as in the for-profit world. Some will say that they work in non-profits because they want to “help” as they are altruistic in nature. Some want to “give back”, some want to do it because it makes them feel better.
Assuming that all volunteers, board members or staff are motivated to work there for the same reason and believe in the same purpose of the organization is a dangerous assumption. I have seen many varied responses when asked why do you do this work or what is the purpose of your organization and of course….there are generational trends to the answers I have heard.
It is well established that baby boomers are “doers.” Their overachieving, competitive, performance based attitude has served them well in life. This value has shaped the non-profit industry for 30 years. This is where the “I am here to do xyz” or “our organization does xyz” statements come from. Examples would be: I am here to provide shelter, I train people, I advocate for environmental health, I help victims. The basis being “I find value in what I do” .
Generation X has as decidedly different approach. I won’t comment if it comes from the slacker days of our teens and 20′s, where we gained the reputation for not doing (up to boomer or traditionalist expectations that is). But I will say that our response to the why am I here question is most often surrounded around the idea of outcome or change. If there isn’t a clear link to what will change, the slacker in most of us Gen X’ers are not going to engage. Call us lazy but we’re not into doing something just for the sake of doing it. The value for us and for our agencies is to change an outcome, hopefully for the better. I find value in the result of what I do.
A common place that I see this divide in the non-profit sector is in the creation of mission statements & strategic plans. Boomers like to talk about what they are doing, X’ers most often focus on why are we doing it, what is going to change because I am here. Millenials sit back and watch the tennis match back and forth.
This divide is virtually non-existent in the for-profit world. There are no gray areas of purpose or motivation, you are there to make money…end of story. No sitting in small rooms in uncomfortable chairs for hours upon hours, negotiating what will change because we exist or what need do we fill or mapping out the details of how we do it.
So why do you go to work? And what is the point or purpose of your organization? How do you communicate or verbalize the answers to these questions? Is it different from your fellow staff, volunteers or board members?