Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Do Nonprofits Have a Place in the Business of the Future?

If there was an article that could sum up my interests for this grant and this project, it's this.

I've come out of this year having talked to 13 people specifically, though the ripple effect of those conversations reach much wider. They represent organizations like the Creative Work Fund, Kickstarter, Twitter, Artspace, and United States Artists, among others. The reason I wanted to talk to these folks was to hear their experience around collaboration, innovation, impact and ultimately, doing "good" business. 

I am heartened with the trend that millennials look to goods and services to express values, not just expression of wealth. And that startups are disrupting industries and working from missions designed with both profits and social impact in mind.

Unspoken in this conversation is what kind of impact it will have on the nonprofit sector. Personally, I think it could use a little disruption. As the article says, it makes sense to apply for-profit skills to creating cultural change. Businesses might even be better at it. I'm not advocating for the destruction of the 501(c)3, but I think B Corps, LLCs, and startups like Airbnb, Skillshare, and Taskrabbit provide necessary competition and push towards innovation.

There was a big hoopla over the numbers that more than $150M has been pledged lifetime on Kickstarter and that the NEA's 2012 budget is $146M. (Kickstarter had about $99M pledges to projects in 2011 alone). People seemed awfully concerned about whether it was a good thing; there were calls to disband the NEA, while on the other hand, some folks were lambasting the soundbite of "Kickstarter Expects to Provide More Funding to the Arts than NEA". In the end, it's comparing apples to oranges. The NEA's not solely looking to foster the creation of art, they're also looking to support access to it. And Kickstarter is proving that these tech tools and engaging community models can actually work to fundraise*. What we should take from these stats is that people want to participate in creativity- and are even willing to support it financially. Nonprofits should learn from the design and marketing of successful projects around what patrons are interested in, and how they want to participate. 

I'm definitely excited about the business of the future. More and more, the walls between sectors are coming down. I hope it fosters a more collaborative community towards making the world a better place.

*Kickstarter doesn't support charitable models, but I know for certain some of these that were successfully funded went towards supporting nonprofit projects.