Given the power of labels, isn't it time to change the label of "not-for-profit" organisations? Time to change labels from "not" to what the sector is for, for example, the Community Benefit sector.


Labels have power. Marketers and medical practitioners know this fact. For marketers, a name can conjure up a brand and all that is associated with it, for example, sporting prowess or luxury. Marketers know people purchase a particular label, for what the name represents. Porsche doesn’t just make a good car or Dior make a fragrance; we enjoy. These brands are associated with luxury and not just luxury in its broad sense but niched even further to attract particular customers. It is the associations that make customers buy.

The power of naming is also known in the medical field. In the mental health area, up until the 80s, people were often defined by their medical diagnosis. A person who experienced schizophrenia was known as a schizophrenic and was seen as the diagnosis rather than the person. One of the most powerful examples of this were the Rosenhan experiments conducted by Dr Rosenhan between 1969 – 1972. Dr Rosenhan, a psychiatrist, sent twelve people with no mental health illness into psychiatric hospitals. All twelve participants in this experiment were diagnosed with a mental health condition and admitted to the hospital, and the hospitals never realised a misdiagnosis had been made. Such is the power of names and labels.


If the power of labels and names is recognised in marketing and medicine, is it time to change the labels of not-for-profit organisations?

In broad terms, not-for-profit refers to how the organisation is set up for tax and regulatory purposes. As a not-for-profit, any surplus has to be used for service delivery to clients rather than bonuses to staff or shareholders. However, there are good reasons why the not-for-profit sector should re-brand itself as the sector for community benefit.

Let's consider some of these reasons.


The term "not-for-profit" begins with a negative. In marketing and branding, you would never start with a negative. The aim is to create desire, whether pizzas, perfumes, cars, or kitchenware. Starting with a negative creates an oppositional mindset—the not-for-profit sector against what is ‘not’.

The challenge with an oppositional and minimal mindset is that it can act as a blinker to what may be possible.


To consider what may be possible requires us to develop different perspectives to what we usually consider. We have to shift from a minimal mindset to a mindset that allows for possibility, creativity, and that spark of imagination.


One way to expand our mindset is to develop connections with marketers and brand consultants. This is something we are often reluctant to do for two reasons.


We often avoid building relationships that would be beneficial to ourselves personally and our organisations because we are afraid we will be "hit up" for money.

Certainly, marketers and brand consultants have to make a living just as staff in the not-for-profit sector; however, many brand consultants and marketers also want to contribute to organisations that are making a social difference. Many organisations are seeking to build their social engagement. As a social and community-based sector, we can build these relationships that allow marketing and branding organisations to contribute. At the same time, we benefit from seeing things from different perspectives.


This is the other reason we are reluctant to develop business relationships outside what we do. The increasing demand for services, particularly over the past two years, with the impact of COVID, means we often experience a sense of guilt if we take time out to do things that are not directly related to service delivery and meeting client needs. 

The challenge with busyness is that we keep doing the same thing with diminishing returns as we become tired and exhausted. Many within the not-for-profit sector develop hero complexes to the detriment of their mental health and physical wellbeing. We need to step back. Stepping back and learning to see things from a different perspective allows us to develop and expand our mindset.

We can move from what we are not to what we are for.


Money is a big issue for many not-for-profit organisations. How to use the funds they have effectively, attract more funds; secure government grants and contracts, and build more philanthropic funding streams.

In reality, the term "not-for-profit" is a misnomer because all not-for-profit organisations need to make a profit to remain viable. Not-for-profit organisations that run into deficits will close just as for-profit businesses will close if they have debts.

The challenge of thinking "outside the box" in terms of attracting new sources of revenue for not-for-profits is one of the reasons it is essential to expand our thinking and see things from different perspectives rather than falling into the trap of minimal thinking.

3. IF "NOT", WHAT?

Given the power of labels, isn't it time to change the label of "not-for-profit" organisations? Time to change labels from "not" to what the sector is for, for example, the Community Benefit sector.

The not-for-profit sector is about community benefit. The Australian Charities & Not-for-profit Commission has 60,000 organisations listed throughout Australia and over 80,000 programs providing services to people and communities. 

Some organisations have branded themselves by what they are for rather than remaining with the term "not-for-profit"; however, these are only a few. The majority revert to using the term not-for-profit or nfp.  

Perhaps given the importance of organisations providing support to individuals and communities in 2022, we should be more concerted in changing the label from nfp to CBO’s – community benefit organisations.