What is Your Nonprofit Against? Here’s My Own One Word Answer…

I liked Scott Goodson’s What Is Your Brand Against? post today in HBR so much that it leapfrogged the whole stack of other things I liked about which I had planned on writing. A quick excerpt should suffice to infect you with equal enthusiasm:

Here’s a modest suggestion: If you really want to show the world what you believe in and stand for, how about telling us what you stand against?

Recently, my agency StrawberryFrog launched a new campaign for smart car that was rooted in this kind of oppositional thinking. We understood that the smart car brand stands for some pretty good things: efficiency, economy, reduced environmental footprint. But put way, it sounds rather dull and predictable.

By defining instead what smart is against — over-consumption, excess, thoughtless behavior — we began to craft a statement with more of an edge. As we boiled down the idea some more, what emerged was a simple yet powerful declaration of principle, stating that we are “against dumb.” It felt a little more gutsy and provocative than your typical ad line, which may be why the campaign immediately drew press attention. At the same time, by giving customers something to rail against (everything from gas-guzzlers to oversized Venti lattes), the campaign created a vocal community of smart car advocates. In a short period of time, the brand more than quadrupled its audience.

Of course the temptation of the nonprofit and church sector is to respond with predictable enemies, e.g., Our organization stands against hunger… Our church is steadfastly opposed to sin… We stand against illiteracy in all its forms.

True but hardly shocking stuff, that.

And it’s true that in many ways it comes so naturally to us nonprofit and church types to talk about what we’re against that we’re often faulted by the world for it. “”You Christians are so negative. You’re anti-everything. And you definitely hate gay people.” In fact, an ad campaign from the United Church of Christ played off this very tendency quite successfully (watch sample “banned” commercial here).

But isn’t this all the more reason to think carefully and creatively (and, I might add, with greater theological precision) about what we really are against?

“Love the sinner and hate the sin,” for example, is a fascinating quote from Mahatma Gandhi, not Jesus, and I’m not sure it’s ever caused anyone to respond by saying, “Ah–thanks! That really clears things up!” and nodding knowingly.

And by saying that we are “against hunger” (or illiteracy, or halitosis, or a whole host of other ills), have we really distinguished ourselves at all? Who, after all, is for hunger?

But if we were to say, for example, that we are against the defacement of the image of God in human beings, we’d perhaps enter into a far more interesting conversation about hunger.

So take a few minutes today to think about what your nonprofit–or you, or your church–is against. I found the exercise quite stimulating and clarifying, ultimately concluding that what this blog is against can be stated in one word:

Professionalization.

Or, to be a bit more long-winded, this blog–and the Whole Life Offering branch of the Transformational Giving family tree–is against the professionalization of ministry, which, among other things, has led a generation of nonprofits to conceive of fundraising as asking for money to support their professional ministers and ministrations.

In contrast, this blog proudly contends, with Ephesians 4:11-13 as its rallying cry, that all Christians are called to full maturity in Christ, with Christian leaders tasked by God to serve the Holy Spirit in that equipping. It contends still further that fundraising should be fundamentally rethought as a way of raising a pool of funds that individuals and groups draw on jointly to finance their shared endeavors to further the cause, with organizations (churches and nonprofits) serving as platforms for, not the doers of, those efforts.

Feel free to practice in the Comments section, below, about what your own organization is against. I’ll be happy to give you feedback on your effort.

And I promise not to “love the poster and hate the post.”

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He is presently a candidate for the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to What is Your Nonprofit Against? Here’s My Own One Word Answer…

  1. Fred Palmerton says:

    Great piece. And halitosis is better than no breath at all.

  2. Tim Rixkel says:

    Intriguing concept, Eric. I’d have to say that WGM is against mission marketing. That is, promoting ourselves by claiming to be better than another mission. There is far too much competition among ministries. Today, collaboration and cooperation should be our values. Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to a devotional by Dennis Kinlaw, given to WGM leadership. He said, “You love someone because you are valuable to them.”

    When you understand that concept, it revolutionizes the way you approach others. Marketing just doesn’t seem to be the right approach to loving.

    Thanks for your post!

    • EFoley says:

      Great to hear from you, brother–and I couldn’t agree more. Definitely a nonprofit shouldn’t want to be against another nonprofit! Hopefully the word or words about what a nonprofit would be against would be cause-related rather than institutionally related.

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