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Impatience with social change

The Summer 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review explores the increasing interaction between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, a topic we’ve been exploring for years. The issue highlights several cases where nonprofits and for-profits can learn from each other and benefit from partnerships. We encourage nonprofit and philanthropic leaders to get their hands on a copy.

One piece in particular caught our attention:Are Nonprofits Getting in the Way of Social ChangePaul Klein suggests that in an age when the expertise and resources exist to solve significant social problems instead of nibbling at the edges, we should all have very different expectations of nonprofits.

“One of the reasons that I left being a nonprofit executive director was that I realized that I was consistently putting the needs of my organization above the interests and the needs of the clients we were serving” says Puget Sound social sector leader David Wertheimer. Klein’s inclusion of Wertheimer’s first hand experience highlights one example of the self imposed constraints that we at Altruist Partners address again and again in the social sector clients we work with.

Wertheimer’s sentiments also reflect a growing impatience among philanthropists and social impact investors. “The philanthropic sector dollar should be the most risk-tolerant, highest-risk dollar in the game…” said Wertheimer, now a leader at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Private philanthropic sector dollars should be the catalytic agent that promotes change in the system.”

Klein concludes that nonprofits are losing their monopoly as the most effective agents of social change. For the organizations we serve, the challenge is to adapt or die. On the flip side the opportunity is enormous. The great news is that ambitious idealists with the right approach may increasingly find powerful investment partners ready to match their ambition with resources.

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