What Nonprofit Leaders can Teach Business and Government Leaders



It is commonly noted that NGOs can learn a great deal from business. Better accountability, a greater focus on results, and  improved stewardship of scarce resources are some of the benefits claimed from nonprofits beings students of business.


However, Grant Oliphant, writing for the February 26, 2009 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a contrasting perspective: What business and government leaders can learn from nonprofits. Grant Oliphant is the chief executive of the Pittsburgh Foundation.


After all, the economic collapse has revealed major cracks in two persistent myths -- the myth that nonprofits and foundations should be "more like business" and the myth that foundations are secretive, unethical, shady institutions requiring oversight from enlightened legislators and bureaucrats. As Oliphant notes, given the current crisis, which business should nonprofits emulate, Wall Streets collapsed financial houses or the near bankrupt Detroit automakers? And should foundations and be nonprofits be given oversight and gain guidance from the same watchdogs who cannot account for how banks used the $350 billion in bailouts the federal government provided them or missed Bernard Madoff's $50 million dollar scheme that ripped off thousands of people?


Five lessons


Grant Oliphant lists five lessons that the nonprofit sector could have taught both business leaders and government leaders.

Oliphant summarizes his paper with the reflection: "Perhaps, in the age of the big bailout, it is time for the teacher to become the student, for government and business to be 'more like philanthropy.'"