The March 5 Time Magazine addresses a question from the "Didja ever notice?" category of nonprofit management, namely why people seem so ready to start new nonprofits instead of cooperating with existing ones. (One example: Mayme Clayton Agnew’s private library of black history, which her son is now warehousing in Los Angeles as he seeks structure and funding for its preservation and display. Isn’t that precisely what public libraries are for? Doesn’t Los Angeles have one? If not, wouldn’t New York’s be happy to step in, given its own extensive collections in the field? Does there really have to be a separate museum?) Author Dan Kadlec includes pertinent questions for prospective founders–is my idea different? is a start-up necessary?–and references to the Foundation Center and other Websites (what, not the Nonprofiteer?) for management advice.
Kadlec puts the proliferation of institutions down to Baby Boomers (the answer to the lazy reporter’s prayer!) for their/our unwillingness to do things anyone else’s way. There is, of course, at least one alternative interpretation, offered by scholar Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone: that civic life requires the creation of appropriate voluntary groups; that most of the major voluntary structures of today arose in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and that it’s time for another spasm of institution-invention of the sort that spawned the YMCA, the Boy Scouts and the settlement houses. Or, as it is written, everything old is new again. This is great, provided the newcomers review history instead of repeating it; the Saguaro Seminar’s site on fostering civic engagement is one place to start.
Interestingly, the Time article seems to see "starting a nonprofit" as one of the options available to retiring Boomers, right next to "lowering golf handicap." If that attitude gets adopted generally, we could be spending the next 35 years in tugs-of-war over helpful-sounding names (Lock up your intellectual property now!) or engineering mergers for the final few groups left standing.