To be or not to be for profit. Well that’s silly, is anyone against profit?
Of late, I am happy to hear a different term used for NON profits. Beginning the title of anything with a negative is, well, pretty negative. Especially a global industry that prides itself on being productive, pro-active, and positive. And certainly is not against profit, c’mon. And perhaps ‘social profit’ is a more realistic term. It is distinctly more positive and preferred by many. It leads me to propose further exploration of the whole topic on this rare and wonderful rainy day in the mountains. Shall we? (Rainy day dog beside me wags tail with impatient agreement).
What is profit? Is it always financial gain? Must it always have a dollar sign attached? Always be about cash in the door? Well, in answering these questions I apologize, but I will utilize of one of my all time greatest author pet peeves: beginning a piece of writing with the ever cliche, “According to Merriam Webster Dictionary . . .” Cringe. As a former instructor of Comp 101, I simply saw far too many bored, hungover, tongue-tied, bleary eyed students begin their essays with this easy in. And here I go. But not because I am bored, tongue-tied, or bleary eyed, I promise, but purely for rhetorical clarification. (Ooh, look how smart and not hungover I look now).
Yes! Merriam Webster states in its first definition that profit is “money that is made in a business, through investing . . . after all the costs and expenses are paid; a financial gain.” But wait! It also says in the second definition–and in this world of quickly-changing words (think ‘text’) we cannot dismiss the importance of second definitions. Profit is “the advantage or benefit that is gained from doing something.”
Aha! So, shall we run with it? I say we should. Maybe ‘non’ and ‘for’ are not just pretty prefixes added to an important term for businesses that profit; they have, in fact, proven to fulfill the role of distinguishing one from the other, and there are crucial differences. They also may have clouded or instigated some issues and stereotypes.
NON profits are often seen as underdogs when it comes to business practices, wages, and facilities, to name a few. FOR profits are seen as greedy top dogs (aka Ebenezers) who look sourly away from bell-ringing Santas. NONs are too often assumed as some type of lower class citizen in all things ‘true’ business. FORs assume that because they have gained monetary profits they possess a business prowess unknown to NONs.
Has all this given NONs a lease allowing them to be less concerned about bottom lines, appearances, and ROI? And FORs to ignore social responsibility and SROI? Unfortunately, for too many, yes.
Does all this ignore the many NONs that are managed as tight ships with stellar business practices and the many FORs that engage in social improvement and profit that is not measured in dollars? Yes, again.
Shall we end the dilemma and rename those ‘primarily profiting from money’ as PPMs? And those ‘primarily providing social profits’ as PPSPs? Well that would clear things right up, wouldn’t it? (Lots of throat clearing, and big sigh from observant dog).
Okay. No. And perhaps we might just want to agree that the NON of nonprofit or not-for-profit is simply awful. As is the assumption that top corporations can’t think beyond the dollar sign. We should agree that both business types truly and duly work towards a valuable return, a profit, or benefit if you will. Be it a cash register or a cancer victim, a bank account or injured baby whale, a bottom line or unemployed vet, value is added to someone’s life. And that’s probably a pretty positive thing. Go humans! (Dog’s ears perk up.)
Most importantly, let’s agree to say, as Dan Ehrenkrantz tells us so well, that both business types are evolving, as are the people running them and working for them, and that they have quite a bit to learn from each other. And everyone simply wants to profit. End of story. -30-
Oh, takeaways? Of course, here’s a few.
- You can be both a NON and FOR profit. ‘Hybrids’ are growing in popularity and success and producing ‘both social value and commercial revenue.’ “In Search of the Hybrid Ideal.”
- Doing both does not mean letting go of innovation or entrepreneurship, or being bold. In fact, it might require more in the way of bold. Here’s a great story on someone who did BOTH at once, for the same mission. “Should Your Business Be Nonprofit or For-Profit?“
- Finally, a great overview on many important things to consider, no matter which direction your innovative ideas lead you. “Don’t Assume the Shoe Fits.”
What we’d like from you? Your ideas, your thoughts, your inspirations and fears. Have you worked with or for any businesses that impressed you, depressed you, and how did their profit play into your reaction? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you. (Sleepy dog awake and ready for sunny walk).