A NonProfit CEO Manifesto (blame it on Seth Godin)

Inspired by Seth Godin, and his new book Tribes, I collected my thoughts after nearly two years in my current role at Acumen Fund.

I wrote a manifesto.  You can read it here.

This one isn’t for everyone, but you probably know someone who’d like to read it. Do me (and them) a favor and send it to them.

And tell me what you think.  I think this one is important, and since the economy is blowing up and won’t improve any time soon, now is a good time for nonprofits to rethink how they think about raising money.

51 thoughts on “A NonProfit CEO Manifesto (blame it on Seth Godin)

  1. I love this manifesto! I worked in the non-profit arena for years, so I know the feelings. But whether it is “For-profit” or “Non-profit” the concept of your dream, your passion, your zeal being bigger than your own ego is essential. It’s the breathe of life to us all. The joy of spreading the vision of what you love should be everyone’s mission in life. Money is a by-product of an inspired vision that enlightens those who hear it. So I totally agree, focus on the passion of what you are doing and let the rest fall into place.

  2. Sasha, because of reading your manifesto on Seth’s blog, I will be asking people for money to support my work with kids born with CHD – and evangelizing my mission – with a lot more confidence, less shyness and an extra dose of energy than before.

    Thank you from my heart for the difference you are helping make in the world.

    All success

  3. Dr. Mani,

    Thank you so much, your words really mean a lot and best of luck with your work and getting the word out.


  4. A great manifesto! Easy to read and inspirational.

    Zig Ziglar (sales trainer) used to do a segment on how “sales people make the world go ’round”. Maybe fundraisers (or pick your word choice) make the world go ’round… better.

    Whether drives of a product or drivers of change people should drive with conviction and without apology.

  5. I’ll be sharing this with my fellow board members, as well as the readers of my site. My own attempt at a non-profit manifesto (from a while back) didn’t quite say what I needed it to say.

    This is energizing and encouraging to me. You’ve put into words what I often struggle to convey.

  6. I meant to leave this in my previous comment as well.

    “If nothing else, then, we need a new word. Fundraising is about a transaction – I raise funds from you, you get nothing in return.”

    I prefer the word “development” because it encompasses the entire process and not just the transaction. But I try to use the word investment as much as possible. I used it in our annual appeal letter this year, as such:

    “Donations are more than ‘gifts.’ We treat each donation as an investment in the community and do all we can to maximize the impact of each dollar. And we’ll let you know how your investment made a difference.”

    I can’t give my donors a cash return, but I can sure as heck show them just how far we stretched their money to make a difference. If they truly care about the cause and you truly believe you can do something about it, then “investment” is your agreement to deliver results on their dollars.

  7. Hi Sasha,

    Really, really awesome. I wrote about it on Socialentrepreneurship.change.org and forwarded it to all of my friends who work in development!

    Keep up the good work (and the great writing)


  8. This is very good. I will be sharing with all of my peers, non-profit EDs and will make sure my board sees this. I am new to the world of fund raising, being a professional grant writer, but my eyes are open and I am taking it all in. Thanks for this Sasha and to Nick for passing it along.


  9. I read the manifesto, great stuff. I’m not a CEO myself but I sent it to mine, hopefully he’ll get a chance to read it.

  10. Bravo! Well said.

    I will to all my nonprofit colleagues and will include as a reading in a new undergraduate course on philanthropy and fundraising that I’m developing for Ohio Dominican University.

  11. wonderful. I have forwarded the link to a non-profit board and executive director as well as to anyone else I could think of that has volunteered to do fund raising for worthwhile causes. Thank Sasha for putting into words what is in so many hearts

  12. This is completely awesome! Well done on a brilliantly inspiring piece – I will definitely be spreading it around!

  13. Very nice job! I work with a lot of non-profits, and will be sharing with them, for sure.

    One question: you mention that storytelling is a skill that can be learned. Do you have suggestions as to how? Is it a class? A book? (anything other than “practice”?)


  14. Ben,

    I don’t think there’s a simple answer to your question. Acumen Fund has a Fellows Program where we try to teach these skills through a combination of discussion, dialogue with great communicators, feedback and practice.

    I don’t think a class or a book alone will do it, and I don’t think it can happen without practice. That said, I strongly recommend the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It really dissects ‘sticky’ ideas and unpacks their components, and focusing on Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible and Emotional stories is, in my mind, both valuable and teachable.

    Thanks for your comment,

  15. Sasha,

    You have distilled an essential truth about fundraising–it is long past time we throw away the tin cup model of fundraising.

    The most effective fundraising is done as a direct extension of mission. At Cause Effective, we teach board members and staff that sustainability, particularly in times like these, comes from building communities of supportive individuals–Seth’s Tribes as you have put it–whose core values lead them to care about your work, and with their help, understand the importance of their group’s work.

    However, we do see donating (and volunteering) as an equal exchange and say no one will give more than they receive back: what they get in exchange is the satisfaction that they are involved in addressing social issues they care deeply about. Part of the job of fundraisers is communicating with donors after receiving a gift –promoting the exchange–by telling them how their donation has made a difference and, in a genuine way, giving them an opportunity to feel more a part of the community of people united by shared values about justice, health or whatever the particular mission of the nonprofit.

  16. Sasha –

    Thank you for your inspirational words! (And for bringing Seth Godin’s wisdom to the sector.) My favorite line of your manifesto is this one:

    “be an evangelist for your idea and convince others about the change you want to see in the world”

    This is about doing it ALL differently – whether it’s fundraising, marketing, or management. It’s a whole new world – and everyone has an equal opportunity to engage with each other in a new way. Very exciting.

    Rock on.


  17. Sascha,
    Thank you, thank you for taking the stigma out of the title “fundraiser.” People who think badly about fundraisers are just a little ignorant about what it is we do, and your manifesto will help educate them.


  18. I was just whining about a new non-profit i was going to start…and in the whining session I was talking about the fear of raising money and having enough to live on and get this thing off the ground…

    And all of a sudden this link came across and I read what you wrote…

    It was exactly what i needed…a refocusing and reminder that what i am doing is just that important…

  19. Sasha,

    I read your manifesto on Seth Godin’s blog. This is excellent and inspiring. I am leading a team that seeks to create a new model of support for families of children with life shortening illnesses.

    Some days I think we are crazy to try and begin a new non-profit in this economy but the needs of the children and families drive us to continue. I am encouraged by your manifesto to keep fighting the good fight and evangelizing for these families needs. I will be sharing this with the rest of my team.


  20. Re Ben’s question about storytelling training, Andy Goodman is doing some fantastic work in teaching storytelling principles. I attended a workshop in Chicago, sponsored by Lipman Hearne and made available free to non-profit folks, and found it enormously helpful in planning how our agency can tell its stories. His website is http://www.thegoodmancenter.com. He also has a great little monthly publication called Free-range thinking. Available online at http://www.agoodmanonline.com.

  21. Dear Sasha,
    What a brilliant manifesto! I have sent the link to the entire BoD of my organization.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all…I have always bee passionate about CAN and you gave me more reason to shout it from the rooftops!
    Amazing, truly wonderful!
    Kathy Nicklaus
    Executive Director
    Cancer Alliance of Naples

  22. Dear Sasha,

    Thank you for your inspiring manifesto! It’s so relevant to nonprofit healthcare providers, who tend to become distracted by their next to-do item and lose sight of the impact they can have on the world.

    It’s funny, the best manifestos are rarely written by CEOs.

    Can’t wait to learn more from you.

    – Keith

  23. Dear Sasha,

    Your manifesto is wonderful and perfectly on point. Your timing couldn’t be better either as so many organizations need support from proud leaders who must use their megaphones and soapboxes with passion and clear voice. Thank you for putting into words something I feel every day.

    Karin L. George
    Senior Associate
    Washburn & McGoldrick, Inc.

  24. So proud and happy for you! I’ve told you that before, but now everyone knows how terrific you are!

  25. Thank you Sasha!

    Your manifesto really summarize it all!

    *preparing myself for the next session of tribe member recruitment*

  26. Sasha,
    I just finished a two year stint as the Development Director for the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, GA (near Savannah). If I could turn back the clock, I would have my boss and every Board member read this and commit to its points. That did not happen and I am now teaching a fund raising course at Savannah College of Art and Design. I want to use your manifesto in my course (with appropriate acknowledgement of course because I want them to bookmark your website), for it sums up so well why fundraising is so important, especially in this time and place. Even though my time at the Mighty Eighth did not end well, it’s still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, and your manifesto has helped me explain that contradictory point to skeptical friends and family. Thank you for summing up so well why I’m still in this field.
    Tom Cannon

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