The Problem with Non-profit

I recently had the privilege of speaking with a group of young non-profit professionals in Grand Rapids at the annual YNPN conference. I told them I think there is a problem with the non-profit sector. Here is the text of that short speech.

You need to know that I dislike the non-profit concept. I dislike that our economic system has evolved in such a way that organizations doing good work must obtain funding by requesting donations.  I dislike that passionate people, like you, more often than not, have limited resources.  You try to do so much with so little, while corporate America often does so little with so much.

I dislike that the mingling of Capitalism and religious theology has created a perverted system in which an implied vow of poverty is thrust onto those who are most concerned about the human condition.

I dislike that the stock market rewards companies purely by how much profit they make with little or no weighting to how their products and services consume resources or serve humanity.

I dislike that people who want well-paying meaningful work can’t easily find those jobs, because so few exist.

I dislike that our physical and virtual worlds are polluted by advertisements from companies who try to manipulate us into buying things we don’t need when our precious attention should be called to more urgent human matters.

There is no reason that the non-profit and for-profit sectors should be two separate entities. That’s bizarre. It’s like some weird science-fiction story where our economy is split into two pieces, one with a soul but no power, and one with the power, but no soul. One part is focused on doing well, while the other part is focused on doing good. We must integrate these two parts into a single, healthy whole. I propose this is the great work of this generation.

You can create an economy where doing well and doing good is the goal of every economic activity. I call this way of thinking “human-centered commerce”.

I hope my position doesn’t feel like an attack against you or the non-profit world. That is not my intent. I have great respect for anyone who takes action to improve the human condition. I also realize that even though our economy is broken, the non-profit sector has enormous positive impact on a daily basis. I’m just trying to bring your attention to the economic waters in which you swim.  In a capitalistic economy it is the entities that generate profits that lead. They are the ones that get the resources.

I imagine a future where you do not identify as “non-profit professionals”, you simply see yourself as successful professionals because you make a good living doing good work. I imagine a future where we meet at a conference on Human-centered Commerce and there we share the best business practices for improving the wellbeing of humanity, locally, nationally, and globally.

If you’d like the idea of a holistic economy and Human Centered Commerce, I invite you to consider these actions in your professional life.

Learn to be social entrepreneurs so you can create financially sustainable projects. Become economic revolutionaries. Learn to see and understand the forces of capitalism so you can help reinvent it by keeping the parts of it that work and getting rid of the parts that don’t.  Look for ways to create meaningful organizations and jobs that naturally earn profit and therefore have access to resources without requesting donations. Become economic leaders, not economic followers.

Your generation can do this.  You can change the standards of society and heal the economy.

I’ll leave you this with final thought.  In a healthy economy, it is the people who do good, people like you, who should be doing do well.  It is the people who act with purpose who should earn the profit.