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What business and nonprofits can learn from each other.

Too often, the business and non-profit communities point out each other’s flaws.  What they should be doing is learning from each other.   There is great untapped potential here.

Business people complain that non-profits are ineffective and need to run more like, well, businesses.  Non-profits respond by saying that the complexities of non-profits are unique and hard to appreciate.  They are also quick to retort that it is big business that devours the ecosystem and keeps employees in poverty.  But before the non-profits can saytake that, you bad business person, business champions argue that outfits like Seventh Generation and Bloomberg LP do more to advance, say, environmental sustainability than many non-profits.  Some guy at Google named Larry Page even suggests we give all our money to corporations instead of charities.

The arguments have been going for years.

They are pointless and counterproductive.

Because if we are going to address the super scary, right-now challenges of a planet loaded with billions of hungry people, leaders in both sectors, nay all of us, need to stop throwing around prejudices and binary stereotypes.  

Instead, for- and non-profit leaders should learn from each other.  There’s a very promising middle path.

Non-profits can learn and deploy enterprise class methodologies to their (and our) great benefit. Pieces like performance-based management, transparency, accountability, and smart, aggressive pursuit of revenue.  They have great programs, but very few can run or fund them at a scale big enough to tackle the problems we face.  Enterprise skills are required.  (We are helping a vanguard of savvy 501(C)3s to achieve the dramatic performance and growth that happens when enterprise methodologies are combined with exciting, compelling non-profit missions and programs.)

For their part, more businesses can enjoy the great many benefits of altruism.  Passionate employee engagement creates productivity and profits.  And engagement happens when the work is about more than hitting quarterly sales targets.

It’s durn smart marketing also.  One of our friends spends $60K/yr on his company’s foundation and gets many times that in print and brand value because of it.  And they really are helping folks with that $60K (foster kids, actually).  The ROI on this triple-bottom-line approach is great.   Amazing more companies aren’t jumping on this.

We love this middle ground.  It’s where we will create the progress we badly need.  Social enterprises.  Altruistic entrepreneurs.  Certified B CorpsSocial Purpose Corporations.  The vanguard of non-profits who are true high performers (and who deliver tremendous levels of good).

We want more marriages between non-profit programs and enterprise class methodologies.  It’s where the hope is possible.  What we’d really like to see is a convergence.  In our dream for future, there will be only one sector.  The social enterprise sector, where we truly protect people and the planet and all its critters and make an excellent living to boot.  Great companies doing great work.

We’re helping build this future.  One great social enterprise at a time.  

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