April 09, 2014
(Susan Danish is executive director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. A founding member of 1,000 Women for Mentoring, she is a member of the board of the National Human Services Assembly and national representative for the U.S. for the International Association for Volunteer Effort.)
Every year, Americans start thousands of nonprofit organizations. Some are dedicated to eradicating disease, others to addressing social issues such as poverty, homelessness, or gun violence. In fact, according to the Urban Institute, the number of registered nonprofits in the United States grew some 25 percent, to 1.57 million, between 2001 and 2011.
That's good, right? Not necessarily.
As someone who came to a second career in nonprofit management after working at some of the best-known consumer products companies in the world, I'd ask that we carefully consider whether there might simply be too many small nonprofits and charities in the United States for them all to be effective.
Yes, I'm aware that nonprofits sometimes close their doors and disappear. I also know that in 2011 the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of some 275,000 nonprofit groups for failing to file an annual information return or notice with the agency for three consecutive years.
But even such a dramatic house cleaning doesn't change the reality: a large number of organizations focused on achieving a single goal – however desirable that goal – makes achieving that goal more difficult. That's certainly the case in corporate management, where such an approach typically results in fragmented markets and reduced market share for an ever-larger number of market participants. Of course, in the for-profit world, there are any number of solutions to the problem of too many companies competing for the same customers. Companies, for a variety of reasons, fail all the time. And as part of that process, their investors and shareholders lose their investment and, in theory, become smarter about where and how to invest the next time.