Competition In The Civic Space

I continue to hear stories of non-profits in communities acting competitively with others with whom they share an impact space. Acting competitively emanates from several salient beliefs:

  • They believe their growth must be about size of impact
  • They believe their growth requires the consumption of as many resources as they can garner
  • They believe the resources they must garner includes the resources of other non-profits
  • They believe deceit is required to get resources of other non-profits

The growth by competition perspective legitimizes all forms of attempts at merger, acquisition, hostile takeover, brand bashing, political maneuvering and inauthentic collaboration which is thinly disguised steps toward guerrilla attacks on other organizations.

When I taught the stages of human development years ago in undergrad psychology, we talked about competition as being a decidedly adolescent conversation.

Partnership is the adult conversation. Partnership is trust based mutual interest for mutual gain. The adult conversation between and among non-profits in common impact spaces is about exactly what kinds of resources anyone can lend to help others and what kinds of resources anyone needs to improve the depth of impact.

For funders who haven't been followng the research, there is no data supporting the mythology that competition makes organizations more innovative. Innovation comes from innovation competencies and a culture of passion and engagement. The fact of monopolistic lack of innovation is not a statement about the lack of competition but the lack of these competencies and culture.

Funders who want to move their funded non-profits from adolescent to adult conversations will do so by hosting and supporting as many partnerships as possible in their communities of interest.