11/04/2014 01:37 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2015

Sometimes Profits, Like Patents, Are Meant to Be Shared

Anyone who thinks that trading the corporate world for non-profit life means an escape from relentless competition has another thing coming.

Nonprofit competition might be couched in friendlier terms, but in today's noisy (largely digital) world of global philanthropy, millions of organizations duke it out for the same grant dollars, Facebook likes, and volunteer hours. (So much so that cause-minded influencers like Mike Rowe won't take the Ice Bucket Challenge for fear of repercussions.)

With an ever-growing focus on "building the brand," sometimes we forget that our ultimate goal is not to be "King of Sustainable Agriculture" or "The Biggest Global Water Charity" but instead to live in a world free of the evils of poverty, oppression and injustice. Our mission isn't to dominate a marketplace of world-changing ideas, but to create new systems that are more open, accessible, and collaborative.

But how?

Several months ago global tech demigod Elon Musk released patents for his Tesla vehicles to the public, citing fears that corporations aren't adequately responding to the threat of global climate change. In a conference call to mark the occasion Musk explained: "We really need to do something. It would be shortsighted if we try to hold these things close to our vest."

Musk's move was a PR coup, of course, and may have been shrewd business, as Tesla moves beyond motor vehicles and into battery manufacturing. More than that, though, the mind-blowing All Our Patent Are Belong To You was a brief glimpse into how the electric car company wants to position itself in a larger market of ideas -- as an experience.

It's as if they're saying, "Your car may be useful, but Tesla is a way of changing your life and the world around you. (Oh and by the way, to prove our point, HERE HAVE ALL OUR PATENTS.)"

As corporate leaders like Tesla and many millennial nonprofits move away from "things" to focus on "experiences," there remains that pesky grey area -- full of design consultants and professional fundraisers and insurance salesman - where for-profits and nonprofits work together.

Last year I controversially suggested that Non-Profit Design Should be Free... that by embracing a new model that splits conventional and pro-bono projects 50/50, design firms like verynice create sustainable income while more effectively serving cash-strapped nonprofits, allowing them to solve real problems more transparently.

Fortunately, Matt Manos, founder and managing partner of verynice has just Musk-ed (can we say that yet?) his brilliant "Give-Half" model, offering a free toolkit with best practices for pro-bono service. The toolkit comes with the second edition of his critically-acclaimed book How to Give Half Your Work Away for Free, and much like Musk's brilliant scheme to boost competition by open-sourcing Tesla's solid gold patents, Manos' book is a glaring challenge to other businesses serving the non-profit community: choose mission over competition without sacrificing profit.

The irony in all of this, of course, is that even Manos had a hard time moving past a scarcity mindset at first. When he began conceptualizing the give-half model seven years ago, he admits he "freaked out" when several others in his industry began leveraging similar tactics.

Fortunately for us, his sense of competition seems to have abated.

You can learn more about the give-half model and download Manos' book for free at