I am several years into working for a 501(c)3. In the past, I’ve worked for public corporations, an s corp, sole proprietorships and even an attempted but disappointingly failed ESOP. The past five years have been a unique and transforming experience. I now have the pleasure of working for something other than faceless shareholders or the in-your-face owner that has a compelling need for a new boat or a bigger house.
While our mission, “to advance our customers’ manufacturing competitiveness through innovation in joining and allied technologies”, may not seem as meaningful as curing cancer or feeding the hungry, it is vitally meaningful to EWI’oans (EWI’ites?). To an associate we support the mission with a passion and tenacity that to me was always missing from the other organizations. I’m not sure this is a reflection of the mission-centered nature of the 510(c)3 or the culture that we have tried so hard to foster over the last few years. When we save money by getting a non-profit discount on a state-of-the-art piece of equipment or negotiate a lower price for materials, that savings can be invested into developing a new welding process (like AcousTech Machining or RealWeld Trainer), expanding capabilities, or hiring a world renown expert in welding technology. That’s a good feeling, much more satisfying than paying for a “nose” job for a vain owner (true story). That’s not to say we don’t fight like hell to reach our earnings goals. It’s the reason behind why we need to reach those goals that makes it completely different.
Even more meaningful is the opportunity to positively impact a member’s manufacturing processes to improve quality or efficiency. These improvements trickle down throughout our whole economy affecting not only EWI’s customer but their workforce, their end customer and even ourselves. I am much more likely to buy products from our members than non-members because I know they care about quality.
Such a shared sense of ownership like we have at EWI does take some getting used to. It gives everyone the right and responsibility to hold others accountable (i.e., get up into your business). It takes patience, direct communication and lots of trust to work in that kind of environment, but it works. I’d much rather people care too much than not enough. So for now I’m relishing the feeling that I control my own fate and I’m trying my hardest to hold myself up to the high standards of my fellow EWI’oan’s.
“When we think about the people with whom we work, people on whom we depend, we can see that without each individual, we are not going to go very far as a group. By ourselves, we suffer serious limitations. Together we can be something wonderful.” – MAX DE PREE