VC:VC Ever heard of a dot org crash?

"Ever heard of a .org [pronounced dot org] crash?" That's the question being asked, in its new advertising campaign, by TIAA-CREF, a financial services firm who caters to educators and others in non-profit organizations.

They are playing on the now famous dot com crash. The most common last three letters of internet or web addresses (in the US) are com for commercial entities, net for network providers and org for non-profit organizations. The dot com crash is the shorthand for the unravelling of the internet boom (or the pricking of the internet bubble).

The term dot com refers to the young internet startups, not all the large firms with their websites. Similarly dot org might be represented by Hazon and many other small new non-profits founded by social entrepreneurs, looking for new ways of connecting people and causes.

A dot org crash would be the systemic failure of a group of such organizations because of some common underlying problem with unsustainable growth. This is where the two meet - many new non-profits were started during and after the dot com bubble. These were funded by the dot com rich - mostly young and entrepreneurial, but also possibly fickle and also possibly only temporarily rich. Many dot com fortunes rose and fell with the stock market and did not leave lasting impressions on entrepreneurs' bank balances. Perhaps we will see a dot org crash as these family foundations and pet-projects-turned-new-non-profits run into problems as the founders' interest or bank balance diminish. Perhaps there is a similar phenomenon with celebrity foundations... some celebrities are not known for long attention spans (and, yes, I know many do great work: Oprah, Jerry Lewis' telethon etc etc).

Commentators took great relish at criticising Bill Gates for years: "so rich, and yet he doesn't contribute anything to charity!" Now of course, their criticisms are seen to be premature and unfounded. I am glad he waited and worked deliberately on his philanthropy which seems as solid and well-grounded as any such effort ever seen. Otherwise he may well have fuelled a dot org bubble and when his interest faded, caused a dot org crash.

I see no immediate signs of irrational exuberence in the dot org world - a sure precursor to a dot org crash - but the thought-provoking question "ever heard of a dot org crash?" should be on all of our minds when we look at new charities asking for our support.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether we should fear a dot org crash; but I'm conscious that we're currently in the umpteenth year of an unusually long - and, at the high end, historically unprecedented - economic cycle. And I think that

a/ contributions to non-profits count as discretionary spending - they'll suffer disproportionately, in my view, in a turndown, and

b/ young non-profits, unlike older ones, lack the reserves easily to weather such storms.

As the leader of a small and fast-growing non-profit I think about this; I've worried about it for a little while; and I've worried a little more in the recent period, because it seems clear that a slowdown in growth is now happening. Whether that turns into a full-blown recession remains to be seen.

The response, of course, is

a/ to attempt to build reserves;
b/ to seek to broaden revenue streams, and
c/ to keep a sharp eye on whatever factors within the organization - and the wider economy - are capable of being lead indicators of negative change - so that, if things do turn down, one can try to rein in costs as quickly as possible.

The latter, in a fast-growing tightly run small non-profit, is much easier to type than to do.

Gmar tov - may it be a good year for us all, and for the many young dot orgs making the world a better place...