From the Intern: Relating the Dots


(a further attempt to connect the dots of the Nonprofit Constellation)

I stood on a stool to get this one off the shelf.

I’ve often thought that the founders of our country must have been themselves thinking of a three-legged stool as they drafted the U.S. Constitution and brought into being the three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.

I mean, wasn’t it Euclid who postulated that a single plane passes through any three points?  Thus, the effectiveness of the three-legged stool.  You can set that stool anywhere ‘reasonable’ and it will achieve stability because each of its legs will be on the same plane.  Not so with the four-legged stool, table, etc.

I mean, just remember the fabled “Rocking Table of Cafe Marais” that spilled a thousand celebrities’ drinks before it was recycled and replaced, or that table Lettie says she’s having trouble selling.  Very little that is more annoying than showing up at Starbucks, gingerly setting your latte close to the window to cool, leaning in to talk across the table to your good friend, and watching their soy chai cappucino slop over the side of their over-sized cup simply because some engineer doesn’t understand plane geometry and the usefulness of the number 3.

If only three-legged tables were more fashionable.

syndetics-lcAnyway, all of this about three legs is to point out why Grace Budrys’ delineation of our sometimes overwhelmingly complex society into a functional image having three major parts (the nonprofit sector, the for-profit sector, and the governmental sector) worked so well for me in her book How Nonprofits Work.

I like things that come in threes.

And things that come in threes have a tendency to balance each other (see Euclid’s stool), they keep the options available to a society from becoming polarized ‘either/or’ opposites (maybe?), they have the backing of Lady Luck (3rd time’s charm!)

Budrys doesn’t stop with the establishment of the idea of three sectors, though.  She fills out this image by talking about the perceptions of each sector, she reviews statistics about each, what she perceives as strengths and weaknesses of each sector . . .

I learned a lot just in the first two chapters.

I learned that some people think we could probably eliminate one or two of the legs in this analogue of the stool.  I learned that I feel that that is probably a misinformed idea.  And not because I’m preaching the gospel of any one individual leg, but because I’m sympathetic to the idea of balance, equity, accountability, and it seems to me that three legs/sectors might help us achieve those things.

I remain unsure, ambivalent, overly-introspective, perhaps, but still interested in reading more about how nonprofits work.  Hopefully this post has made you curious about this dot in the constellation that is the nonprofit world and you will be motivated to check the book out for yourself.  It’s free to do so at your local library!

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