For Impact


The Big Old (Nonprofit) Dinosaurs Are Dying

On Change in the Social Sector | | Tom Suddes

The dinosaurs are dying.

Who wants to be a >”BIG GIANT”?

These business behemoths are fighting for survival. General Motors. Ford. Every major airline. Hewlett Packard. Sears. Motorola. Federated. Etc. etc.

Most of their “BUSINESS MODELS” just don’t work.

They’re being out flanked, outmaneuvered, and outthought … by MAVERICKS … INNOVATIVE START-UPS … ENTREPRENEURS and RADICAL THINKERS.

In the FOR IMPACT WORLD, you can see it happening with the same “GIANTS OF YESTERDAY”. They, too, have outdated “BUSINESS MODELS”.

Granted, some of these “NONPROFIT BIGGEES” have tried to change. Multiple times. Not only are they failing to “turn the battleship”, but in many, many cases, they’re just more “comfortable” with keeping things the way they are/they way they’ve always been.

My virtual mentor, Tom Peters, calls these people DSGYs (Designated Self-Appointed Guardians of Yesterday).

My own politically crude acronym is BOWGs (Big Old White Guys), which is kind of a personal euphemism for “traditional, bureaucratic, corporate, hierarchical thinking“.

Two quick examples:


I’d like to start by a great “cause” and “mission”. Wonderful staff. Impossible turnaround.

  • Chartered by Congress (Think BIG Government)
  • 125 Years Old (Think set in their ways.)
  • 50 Board Members; 30 Representing Local Chapters
  • 1 Million Volunteers and 35,000 Employees

Bernadette Healy, former Red Cross President who resigned in 2001, says “… making serious changes in the Red Cross is critical to its survival as an organization serving a crucial function for the American public”.

Yes, but … how can you possibly do that “CHANGE” with the deadly triumvirate of CONGRESS/BIG GOVERNMENT + incredible size + outdated business model???


First, let me tell you that I love the people who work and volunteer at ACS.

With that said, it’s another “HUGE” organization.

  • Almost 100 Years Old.
  • 13 Divisions (“Fiefdoms”).
  • 3,400 Local Offices Nationwide
  • 2 Million Volunteers

And, a hierarchical bureaucracy in Atlanta.

In this case, though, something is happening. Along come the RADICALS … the CHANGE AGENTS … the INNOVATORS … who believe is there is a different and better way to tackle the BIG ‘C’: CANCER.

Nancy Goodman Brinker creates the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (her sister) and has made breast cancer awareness a big, big deal, primarily through the National Race for the Cure.

Rob Emrich of Road of Life is a passionate maverick attacking the “problem” of nutritional/lifestyle roots in grade schools.

There’s the “crazy” (my highest compliment) people at the HUTCH, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, doing some incredible cutting-edge innovative work.

Then, of course, there’s Lance. Through his ubiquitous YELLOW “Live Strong” BRACELET, (70 million and counting) he has created a $100 Million Foundation that is small, nimble and productive. MAVERICK? It’s Lance Armstrong, the man who does everything his own way. INNOVATION? His bracelets have spawned an entire “COTTAGE INDUSTRY” within the fundraising world. THINK BIG? What would you expect from a 7-time Tour de France winner? In this case, it was a PARTNERSHIP with NIKE (the biggest, baddest, best marketing and brand machine in the world) to help “SELL” the LIVE STRONG motto.

Nancy Goodman Brinker. Rob Emrich. Andy Grove. Mike Milken. Lance Armstrong. Plus a host of others tackling this whole “CANCER” thing in a thousand different ways.

Bless them. More power to them. I only wish they were all “HOOKED TOGETHER” to EXPONENTIALLY INCREASE THEIR IMPACT. (Much like Google harnessing the power of thousands and thousands of computers to drive their incredible search engine.)

Here’s a thought. There are supposedly over 6,000 “NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS” with the world ‘CANCER’ in their name or their mission. Sure, some of them are scams, but most are well meaning attempts to do something about this killer disease.

WHAT IF … we could somehow figure out a way to CONNECT/HOOK UP all of these CANCER-FIGHTING organizations into a giant “GOOGLE-LIKE” NETWORK … working COOPERATIVELY as opposed to COMPETIVELY???

EVERYONE has been … is … or will be … “TOUCHED” by CANCER. We might as well work together.

A SOAP BOX moment? I wonder if any “INVESTORS” would like to see this COLLABORATION? Maybe they just want to continue to fund DUPLICATION OF EFFORT.

SPECIAL, SPECIAL NOTE to Larry and Sergey (Google) (who are clearly looking to change up the Google Foundation):

Get together Pierre, Jeff and Meg (e-Bay) and you all can probably get this COLLABORATIVE NETWORK done in the next 48 hours!

Bill and Steve (Microsoft), Jerry and Tim (Yahoo), Michael (Dell), et al., please feel free to jump on this idea as well.