Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Competition, nonprofit style

The program planning took a backseat role this weekend as I rushed the first draft of my thesis to a self-imposed deadline today. The good news, as far that headache is concerned, is that I have a lot data and ideas with which to work. The bad news is that I'm at 70 pages, I have a few more ideas to develop, and the department sets an approximate page limit of 50 pages. Part of me wants to continue just to see if it's possible to get an honorary doctorate for being prolific--but then again, I guess every lame-ass blogger would be eligible as well.

On the program front, I did have an awesome meeting with a program director today, seeking answers to questions about curriculum development. But here's the issue: given the funder limitations out there, how do nonprofits compete with each other?

The first answer is that those who do not write enough grants or who suck at programs/management just fade out.

The second answer is that some nonprofits (like those modelled on emerging social entrepreneurial frameworks) have innovative programming and therefore have some sort of first-mover advantage in securing funding.

The third answer is that some successful nonprofits are able to outsource their work through subcontracts to sustain other nonprofits that are not yet as "developed" or even incorporate smaller nonprofits to grow.

The answer I'm interested in, however, relates to the innovation and the intellectual property rights that a successful nonprofit might have. Since I do curriculum development, I want to get some ideas from organizations that are already established. Some of these orgs are set to publish their curricula and sell them, either to sustain programming or offset print costs. But at the same time, for a pilot project that simply does not have the start-up capital to gain technical assistance, I am really shy to ask, "Can I look at your work and take a few ideas?"

Culturally speaking, within the nonprofit world my first reaction is that workers are generous with their knowledge and skills given the lack of profit incentive. But philanthropy is increasingly directed by donors and competitive. Additionally, with the professionalization of grassroots movements and the exponentially growing field of "consultancy," is it possible that those involved in social justice movements will become just as assertive in claiming ownership of their methods as those in the corporate world? Could it be possible to patent and sue on behalf of a movement's techniques?

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