A Note on Human Energy and Collaboration

A collaborative environment should help cut through some of the competitive tension that hurts the nonprofit industry. Like the way businesses compete on the ground level for customers, nonprofits often battle over every little bit of funding they can get, often creating waste and misalignment of outcomes.

Imagine the following scenario:

Five similar agencies, that each would produce the same general outcomes, compete for the same government grant. To win this much-needed funding, each organization submits bare-bones proposals in attempts to underbid the competition and win the contract. This potentially creates a major problem: agencies have a harder time meeting the original intended outcomes on such stripped-down proposals. So instead of creating a cohesive strategy to split funding among five complementary agencies, all the money goes to one which is now unable to deliver based on the low costs proposed.

Nonprofits exist to create better outcomes for society in areas where profit-driven enterprises can’t compete—essentially picking up the slack left by public services but, overall, serving the same purpose. Tying back to the human energy idea, we can see how this works. The most basic element of the energy equation is mass (or population). Certainly, from a government perspective, mass ties very nicely to financial measures in the form of taxpayers versus tax receivers. So, in a way, to grow the human energy in any given city, it makes sense to calculate the total mass of taxpayers funding the government. For example, removing people from prison and enabling them to lead productive, taxpaying, value-adding lives obviously benefits the community in which it takes place.

Now, what if the other elements of human energy (which, admittedly, are much more difficult to quantify) could be tied to dollars in the same way that mass is? Outcomes achieved by nonprofits represent either increases in the force accelerating human progress or decreases in forces slowing progress. Again, nonprofits already know their missions seek to achieve these goals, whether or not financial or other quantitative measures are attached to them. But without tangible proof of societal improvement, few governments have incentives to increase current funding without commensurate increases in taxes.