The new nonprofit gulf

By Kathy Landau
The Brief
Nonprofit organizations must unite relationship-building with the metrics and data needed to run, in order to maintain sight of the individuals behind the data.

Nonprofit arts organizations run a very thin line, and run it every day. They must marry passion for societal change with pragmatic administration. In short, they have to keep the lights on while they keep changing lives. There is an inherent danger, then, in leaning too far in one direction, and losing sight of either the mission or the means to support the mission.

As the Executive Director of National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts education organization, I’ve seen the nomenclature once reserved for big business and high finance quickly become the language of philanthropy. Terms like leverage, utilization, capital, productivity and maximization are dominating conversations within the non-profit sector, often with beneficial outcomes. But while data and metrics can help us understand our practical capabilities, they are also limited lenses, and should not be the only ones through which we see the world and our place in it.


I’ve seen the nomenclature once reserved for big business and high finance quickly become the language of philanthropy. 

This is likewise true for relationships, the lifeblood of any NPO, arts-related or otherwise. In the non-profit world, connection is everything. It is just as vital to the work NDI does in our free programming for children as it is to keeping our organization viable, running smoothly and efficiently. And as much as we need to be able to answer questions about metrics, data points, scalability, and deadlines, we need to understand who our donors are, what they are passionate about and where their interests lie. This takes commitment to understanding the human beings behind the data points. 

At our organization, we strive to make something meaningful and resonant come from every meeting, and that requires conversation. Once we bring someone into our “family,” that’s only the beginning. We want to know more about them—the why, who and what of their engagement—both for our benefit and for theirs. Exchange is critical; it is as important to be interested as it is interesting. When statistics become the focus of the conversation, it is easy to lose sight of the individual, whether she sits on our board or dances in one of our free programs.


When statistics become the focus of the conversation, it is easy to lose sight of the individual…

The new “trends” in philanthropy—venture philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, etc.—are meant to extend the reach, impact and ROI of charitable giving, and all of these can yield tremendous outcomes. They have also produced a new way of thinking about social causes. Taking on large-scale societal change is vital, but that does not diminish the power and importance of making a difference one person at a time. That’s true for the beneficiaries of NPO efforts and for those who make it happen. These differing approaches must coexist. Data and relationship building should be seen as mutually beneficial rather than mutually exclusive.

Kathy Landau is the Executive Director of National Dance Institute, an NYC-based arts education nonprofit. This is her first post for RelSci.

RelSci helps create competitive advantage for nonprofit, corporate and financial organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.

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