Last week, the New York Times ran an article exploring a segment of the nonprofit/social impact sector that the author saw as a small minority of organizations, but one I care deeply about: those that plan to go out of business. The article featured Malaria No More, and their vision of the project’s work: to end Malaria. Here’s an excerpt:

Most notable, perhaps, is Malaria No More, a popular nonprofit that supplies bed nets in malaria zones. Its goal is to end deaths from malaria, a target it sees fast approaching.

The charity has announced plans to close in 2015, but it is keeping its options open in the unlikely event that advances against malaria are reversed.

“We never planned to be around forever,” said Scott Case, a co-founder of Priceline and vice chairman of Malaria No More. “We have thought of this more as a project than as an institution-building exercise, and the project is nearing its completion.”

So far, the number of organizations opting to go out of business for mission-related reasons is too small to call a trend. It is still far more common for a nonprofit to close its doors because of financial pressure, which is increasing as governments continue to pare their budgets and donors maintain tight grips on their giving. [Read the full article.]

Whether I’m talking about Community-Driven Social Impact or community organizing, whether it’s focused on a hyper-local community project or global-reaching movement building, it’s always the same for me: our goals need to be focused on a change, not on ensuring that we keep our jobs. Many colleagues, both in the UK and the US, have also been talking about this for years – sometimes referring to it as a plague in our sector, others seeing it as an affect of nonprofits operating more like businesses.

Two years ago, Hildy Gottlieb published her book, The Pollyanna Principles, and with it she helped bring together many people who were talking about and working on this same topic, even if they didn’t realize it. I reviewed her book in the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog and I’m still excited for the opportunities the sector has as Hildy explains them:

We have a huge opportunity before us to remodel our social benefit organization structure. There is so much talk both online and offline, from inside organizations and from outside, that “nonprofits are broken.” We’ve done step 1: admitted that we have a problem. Now, what?  Well, as Hildy explains, we need to start driving our work with our vision of how we want the world to be, instead of what the problems are before us. [Read the full post.]

Changing the world, regardless of the cause, community or organization we identify with, requires a vision that drives us to actually make that change – work with others, don’t recreate the wheel, create opportunities for engagement that are larger than our organization.

But, it isn’t just Malaria No More, and it isn’t just those organizations and communities in The Pollyanna Principles. I know there are so many organizations, campaigns, and community groups making real change now. I hope that they can create a path for others to follow, an open book that others can learn from, and an open door for others to join them.

Get The Pollyanna Principles!

Hildy is celebrating the two-year anniversary of The Pollyanna Principles with a discount – and if you don’t already have the book, I recommend you get it:

Changing our vision of Change: Revisiting the Pollyanna Principles
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  • Amy, thank you so much for saying this. I haven’t read The Pollyanna Principles, but I clearly need to! I have been thinking about this a lot lately, specifically with regard to foundations that stick around in perpetuity, even though that means they keep a ton of money in their endowments when it could be invested more directly in social change right now. Even if they have socially responsible or mission-aligned investments, I doubt the money is doing as much good in the stock market (but I know I can’t make a blanket statement about that, since every foundation is different).

    People come and go (in the grand scheme of the world). It’s sort of scary to think about our jobs in that way too. But you’re right, if we’re really going to make change, then by definition we need to be prepared for our jobs to be part of that change.

    My yoga teacher talks about keeping the big-picture goal in mind, and not getting too attached to any particular path that gets us there. For those of us who want to create social change, I think we can rest assured that we’ll always be able to find (or make!) another job to move ourselves and the world in that direction.

    • Hi Margaux-

      Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts! I have worked on both sides of
      the dollar, as I refer to it, meaning both in nonprofits and foundations. To
      be very honest, I share many of the feelings and uncertainties that you
      explain. That is why I have chosen to stay on the nonprofit side of the

      I feel like this is an issue that always comes up, at least for me, when
      people talk about the US (and the world) having “too many” nonprofit
      organizations. If it seems like a lot, then first of all, that means we have
      way too many problems that need fixing! But, we also create a view that
      there are so many organizations, too many maybe, when we are all fighting to
      deliver the same service or provide the same programming or, especially,
      when our entire purpose is just to provide that service or programming. If
      our organization wants to serve people facing homelessness, then by golly we
      better make sure there are always people in need! If instead we are looking
      to ensure that all the people in the community facing homelessness can
      immediately get help and avoid homelessness, then we have a goal that can
      actually put us out of business.

      You’re very right though – it is scary to think our jobs could disappear!
      But, as changemakers drawn to the nonprofits we work for, we should be more
      drawn to the cause and to the change, than to the organization. I hope at
      least 🙂

      Thanks again for joining in!

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