THE BLOG

And, STOP Calling Me a Non-Profit!

04/06/2015 06:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2015

If the very compelling speakers at a recent industry workshop for the AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) have their way, not-for-profits would find themselves equal to -- if not superior to -- the "for-profits" with whom they compete for resources.

The keynote speaker and author, Lynne Twist, offers up a positive re-naming for this industry -- "Social Profit." Equally persuasive was guest speaker, Harvard grad Jennifer Craig, who offered "For Purpose" as a better description.

Let's think about this.

Exactly why are "non-profits" considered second-tier? Why should a "corporate" business card trump one that reads "non-profit?" Why are (relatively speaking) so fewer dollars directed to social good than to commerce and industry?

The distinction between giving and investing.

It's easy enough to grasp "for profit" because that's, well, what investment is all about. Pure (or, impure) and simple.

You invest your money in a company or its stock and expect a moderate, hopefully handsome, return. Your cash is the fuel that generates the manufacture of more gadgets, items and stuff to make the world go 'round.

But, there's also that guy (or gal) at the door who wants you to put your money, along with your heart, into something which will not generate a... profit. The money you give only, kinda, really, helps people, somewhere.

What's a person with a few, or more, dollars to do? Rack up profits today, or "lay your treasures up in heaven" (Matthew 6:19). How is it that a "giver: seems to get special and divine attention? (2 Corinthians 9:6:7.)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and however sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

"Let me remind you," Ms. Twist told her audience:

The greatest turning points in history were fueled by -- or required -- fundraising and fundraisers. Martin Luther King was a formidable fundraiser, and grateful for every penny. Mahatma Gandhi's work was funded by Jamnalal Bajaj, and because of that, all India was freed.

(You can be assured that Mother Theresa was unparalleled at fundraising. And, who could say no to Mother Theresa?)

Surmounting the myths to sell the solutions.

Whether for-profit or social-profit, there is always the requirement to raise funds. Whether it be to capitalize an idea or rebuild a community, someone has to sell its value so that the checkbook comes out. Fundraiser or stock broker, the same outstretched hands.

The motives, and the rewards, Twist says, are notably different and need to be understood.
"Renaming the 'not' and 'non' sector to 'social profit' or 'for purpose' will frame this work to emphasize our importance to the prospective donor," she argues. "We deserve to have the resources we need."

In this larger context of "deservedness," the fundraiser must still understand and overcome three "toxic myths" that stand between them and donations.

Myth #1. There's not enough to go around. This mentality of scarcity requires that funds be husbanded and that someone, somewhere, must do without.

Myth #2. More is better. It's a shared mentality of the consumer and the producer of goods. If we want to protect ourselves from doing without (myth #1), we must acquire more.

Myth #3. That's just the way it is. This is the ultimate and most pervasive myth, and the one that holds the first two in place. Resignation and acceptance. How has that worked out for the world? Would we have experienced any of our social advances wearing that yoke?

Jennifer Craig admonishes the fundraiser. "Go into every conversation standing up. Eye-to-eye, your question needs to be, 'How can we work together to make a difference?'"

Palpable vs. Profitable

The powerful and positive impact of many businesses and their products cannot be disputed. What would we do without computers? All things Internet? Transportation? Improved food production? Their investors need to be well rewarded for helping bring certain products and inventions into being.

But, once those monies are made, the dividends received and the stocks sold -- where next and how best can these resources be put to work?

Which can be answered by another set of questions. Is profit a consideration if one more child can be saved from dying of hunger? Is there a not a return on investment in equipping a school to better reduce illiteracy -- be that in Appalachia or Africa? Sourcing safe drinking water? Building a hospital where none existed?

Let's move from "profit" to "prophet," and draw one more quote from the good book (Mark 8:36) to put this in perspective.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

Hmmm, fund that start-up, or that for-purpose? Tough call.