The Value of Function

“People only need to open their eyes and see what is happening, then they would join our cause!” argues a friend from a local NPO.

And there is some truth to the statement, as a community we do need to open our eyes.  But a more powerful truth is people are too consumed in the daily toil and activity of their lives and may not have the energy, time, or resources to be interested in social issues that do not directly impact them.   Take a brief survey at any Walk for Cancer event and you will find most people are motivated to participate because they know someone affected by cancer.

But this raises a very important question; as a leader in an NPO, how do I insert the importance of addressing the needs of my beneficiaries into the daily lives of people that don’t know our organization/issue exists? 

One answer may be an organization’s ability to scale.  Scale, in the not-for-profit sector, is the ability of an NPO with minimal localized impact to become an NPO with substantial national/international impact in a short period of time.

Scale, according to Peter Murray’s article The Secret of Scale in the latest edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, can be achieved by an organization’s willingness to shift from an issue organizing organization to a functional organizing organization. For Murray, scalability comes down to an organization’s ability to deliver a product or service for everyone.  The issue is secondary.

Issue organizing organizations believe the social issue will create a community of engaged supporters resulting in increased scale. However, these organizations often communicate their message to the same people through a variety of mediums.  Although consistency and predictability can strengthen an existing community, they rarely lead to increase in its size, influence or impact.

Example: The NPO Newsletter.

Although the NPO newsletter can periodically remind existing supporters of the issue, it rarely inspires others outside the community to become engaged.

Functional organizing organizations believe offering products and services that will add value to anyone’s daily life will create a community of engaged supporters resulting in increased scale.

Example: Membership.

Membership, an example in Murray’s article, needs to have benefits.  Everyone is invited to engage the issue through products or services delivered by the NPO to a membership base.  (Many other examples from the for-profit sector can be found by listening to Mitch Joel’s podcast at Six Pixels of Separation  From Advertising To Youtility With Jay Baer)


So ask yourself this question; regardless of the issue, what service or product can my organization offer to current and potential:

  • Funders?
  • Donors?
  • Volunteers?
  • Employees?
  • Partners?

About Darcy McDonald

Exploring the intersection between social innovation and evaluation.

One comment

  1. Katharine Laurie

    Darcy, this is really cool! I wasn’t clear before when you mentioned ‘issue’ and ‘functional’ organizing. Thanks for taking the time to share….

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

The Pivot Papers

Being Open to Possibility

Alberta Diary

A daily summary of Alberta political developments – Alberta Politics

Leveraging for-profit ideas for social impact

Only Here for the Food

Epicureous in Edmonton

Network for Good

Leveraging for-profit ideas for social impact

SSIR Articles

Leveraging for-profit ideas for social impact

The Wave

A forum for interaction on topics about immigrant employment and hiring for cultural diversity


Mark Holmgren's blog

%d bloggers like this: