What For-Profit Business Managers Can Learn From Not-for-Profit Organizations

In thousands of not-for-profit organizations across the country, hundreds of thousands of Americans work millions of hours for FREE as volunteers. And, hundreds of thousands of highly capable individuals work for not-for-profit organizations as professional staff at less than handsome compensation levels when compared to the world of business. Contrast that with the thousands (perhaps millions) of businesses where studies show that only about 25 percent of their employees are truly ENGAGED in their work and with their employers. Low employee engagement is strongly associated with lower overall organization performance and success.

How can it be that businesses that tend to compensate their employees with more money than do not-for profit-organizations, often have such relatively low employee satisfaction and engagement? What can these business leaders and managers learn from the not-for-profits?

For most of us who have volunteered our time and wit and contributed our other resources to not-for-profits,we know that it is largely THE CAUSE of the not-for-profit organization that inspires us, as does
those organizations’ DEDICATION TO SERVING their causes. Our “compensation” as volunteers and modestly paid professional staff is largely psychic satisfaction, where both our hearts and our heads are
deeply touched.

Organizations which are associated with CAUSES that are about people or circumstances that are EXTERNAL to the organization (e.g., homeless youth; individuals who don’t know how to safely and effectively invest their life savings; rivers that are polluted) and organizations that DEDICATE THEMSELVES TO THESE CAUSES (house the homeless; provide high integrity and high quality investment counsel and services; clean the rivers) are the first two elements in what I call “organization’s souls”.

The “souls” I have found in some not-for-profits and businesses are core ideals and philosophies in these organizations, that energize and propel successive waves of employees to high levels of achievement  and engagement and lead to successful trajectories for those organizations, over long periods of time.

In The Soul of the Organization (APress, 2012 and available through Amazon.com), I examine the elements of “soul” in five not-for-profit organizations (Stanford and Notre Dame Universities, Sisters of Mercy, Larkin Street Youth Services, and San Francisco International Airport) and six businesses (Williams-Sonoma Inc., Barclays Global Investors, Wells Fargo Bank, Merrill Lynch Private Client Group, Dodge & Cox, and Levi Strauss & Company). The stories of each of these organizations demonstrate how their strong “souls” and core values and “reasons for being” have contributed to long-time success and continuing strong employee engagement.

What organizations do you know of with “souls”? Join the conversation on Facebook.