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Paradigm Shift


Shifting Paradigms and Investing in Non-profit Infrastructure

In organizations, a paradigm shift is often a change in the perception of how things should be thought about, done, or created. Executing on new visions and reinventing the way things have always been can be the difference between doing business and creating true change.

What is a paradigm shift?

Thomas Kuhn, the well-known physicist, philosopher, and historian of science, is known for coining the term “paradigm shift” in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn presents two kinds of scientific change: incremental developments in what he calls “normal science” and scientific revolutions that punctuate these stable periods that require “paradigm shifts” (Kuhn, 1962, p253).

Nonprofit organizations are being challenged now more than ever to address how business as usual is done in a world that demands creating true change.

Limiting paradigms and the impact on nonprofit organizations

The Stanford Social Innovation Review hit this point home during the 2009 recession with an article entitled “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” The unfortunate truth is that the challenges they shared 10 years ago are persistent today. Here are few highlights:

  • Nonprofits are reticent to invest in the necessary infrastructure that makes them more likely to succeed.
  • Nonprofits are “loath to actually make these changes because they do not want to increase their overhead spending.”
  • In recessions, nonprofit organizations cut overhead even more despite the threat to the organizations’ very existence!
  • “Over time, funders expect grantees to do more and more with less and less—a cycle that slowly starves nonprofits.”

Imagine coming from a limiting paradigm like this! With this perspective, will organizations ever succeed in their principal mission to help, change, and save lives?

The Best Year Yet Foundation: shifting paradigms and investing in infrastructure

In August 2019, Nonprofit Quarterly released an article called “A Graphic Re-visioning of Nonprofit Overhead” that represents this paradigm shift as follows:

The Best Year Yet Foundation supports organizations through our grant-making, with critical infrastructure proven over the last three decades in the top for-profit and nonprofit organizations alike. At the same time, we work with leaders, teams, and organizations as a whole to transform the underlying paradigm to support revolutionary change.

These are the fingerprints of impact we have shared over the last several years. We contribute to organizations shifting out of incremental change into dramatic, revolutionary changes that benefit the organization and ultimately the communities they serve.

Aaron Cohen
Executive Director, Best Year Yet Foundation