In Threat to Black Colleges, Inside Higher Ed reports on a Mississippi proposal to merge the state’s three historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).  Governor Barbour cites financial reasons for his recommendation.

In reading the article, I realized that this story exemplifies an underlying tension in the nonprofit sector: numbers versus nuance.

For numbers, we focus on quantity.  We want to do what the most people need, and what the most people will support.  We seek economies of scale and are driven by efficiency goals.  We want to get the most bang for our buck – striving to be good stewards of charitable dollars.  We may consider mergers, consolidation of backroom services, or program partnerships.

On the other hand…

For nuance, we understand that there are differences among individuals.  We know that people have unique needs and effectiveness depends on our ability to address individual circumstances.  We recognize that minority issues may be too easily ignored:  a disease that only affects one hundred people annually, a need for multi-lingual resources in a small rural community, or an artist’s distinct perspective.  We want to focus on the people and the issues that may be overlooked by the for-profit sector and/or the public sector.

In the various approaches to nonprofit work, I suggest there is a continuum with nuance and numbers at each extreme.  I often fall closer to the nuance approach.

Where do you fall on the continuum – nuance or numbers?  Please leave a comment with your feedback!

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