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Non-profits need to step it up

Non-profit: Do those words themselves sound high-and-mighty?

How about not-for-profit? Does that subtle distinction leave room for the idea that a not-for-profit group might follow some of the sustainable practices that for-profits have to live by in order to stay solvent. In other words, not hanging by a shoestring and gasping from grant to grant but open to the possibility of making money. Of course, not FOR the sake of profit, but open to the idea it might actually help the cause.

What I'm wondering is this: how many of the 100-plus new nonprofit charities hatched every single day have a business plan?

I saw a film called "Carbon for Water" at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, hosted by the River Alliance of Wisconsin. It may actually have been an info-mercial, but it was also entertaining. It is about a company that is making money by selling carbon credits, not their product. The actual product is called the LifeStrawVestergaard Frandsen states "We operate under our own unique Humanitarian Entrepreneurship business model" that they call "profit with a purpose." 

What I learned from the movie is this: they invented a water filter that they are installing all over Kenya, were there is not enough clean water due to deforestation, where girls are putting themselves at risk of rape or animal attack by walking unthinkable distances to bring water to their families, where people are suffering from horrible health due to the wood-burning fires used to boil water to make it clean. What impressed me was this: they were meticulous about everything in order to be accountable to the market and the public health industry. 

I'm sure there are plenty of people who are critical of how they are improving lives and saving trees, but I drank the 22 minute kool-aide.

Paul Zak says that every choice you make is economic. Who you marry, where you live, who you help, where you vacation, etc. He is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies. He believes that markets, civilization, and democracy are all built on trust.  This is based on his research of the hormone oxytocin, dubbed "the moral molecule," which he believes drives trustworthy behavior for MOST people (98% of the population). It stands to reason that 98% of CEOs and 98% of non-profit directors are trustworthy people, they are just operating in different worlds. Worlds with different rules. Worlds that seem not to really understand each other or respect each other.

At least, that's what I see from the non-profit world. Taking money from the corporate world, unless it comes funneled through a foundation, feels dirty. It's like selling out. Nobody wants Coca-Cola buying naming rights for the homeless shelter, right?

Non-profits raise money from various philanthropic sources to keep the doors open, pay salaries, and do their good works. I understand that banks don't give non-profits loans because that would be a very risky loan. There are some socially-conscious investors out there that want to support charities in innovative ways, but...

I think that non-profit leaders could learn so much from the business community. Of course, those wealthy folks could also learn a heck of a lot by walking in our shoes, using our slow computers, sitting in our broken chairs, filing endless paperwork for our travel reimbursement.....

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