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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Redefining the Debate

Posted by admin | January 24th, 2007 | Filed under Compassionate Capitalism, Environmental Change, Positive Change

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Social Edge, a program of The Skoll Foundation, is running a new question-and-answer feature. The current question is trying to generate an alternative to the terms “nonprofitâ€? and “not for profit.â€? Why? In their words, “because it’s humiliating to describe one’s favorite universe in negative terms.â€? Leave your thoughts here or engage in the dialogue at Social Edge.

By the way, Jeff Skoll’s a pretty cool guy. He was the founding President of eBay. In 1999, he created The Skoll Foundation, which takes an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy by supporting social entrepreneurs. In 2004, he founded Participant Productions, which is a media company that possesses a public interest focus. Participant Productions has brought us films like Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Fast Food Nation and An Incovenient Truth.

9 Responses to “Redefining the Debate”

  • January 24, 2007 at 7:59 pm | \ Wíll / says

    I feel that as Sustainability takes hold as a genuine component of everyday life, we will see an influx in the variation of what Non-Profits stand for.

    Since Non-Profits already address a wide range of services, I suggest something along the lines of “Social Cause Organization” (SGO). This phrase has similar authority and diversity of service to NGO’s, while avoiding the damper on profit.

    JD Mumma notes on the Think Fast! discussion page that the word ‘Social’ has an implicit “focus on [only] humans, not the animals, plants and environment”

    Everyone please feel free to pass my comments around so we gain collective feedback and offer a refined phrase to Social Edge.

    NaU we’re getting somewhere,
    \ Wíll /

  • January 26, 2007 at 6:03 pm | jl says

    How about philan-profit (relating to philanthropy).
    Social profit.
    Earth profit.

  • January 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm | John says

    While in business school and beyond, I’ve used acronyms such as EVA(economic value added)a bit. How about leaving the acronym intact but with EVA meaning Environmental Value Added. We can perhaps expand on it and add the social factor to make it even more encompassing and we have SEVA (Social Environmental Value Added). The word “profit” has been removed (usually associated with money anyway) and we’re left with something that is perhaps more neutral. Whether it’s EVA, SEVA, SGO, Philan-Profit, Social Profit, or Earth Profit, how do we measure it and translate it to something actionable. Without the ability to measure the outcomes and align goals/benchmarks to it, well..it’s just another acronym or hip buzz word.


  • January 27, 2007 at 10:37 am | jl says

    John, I like your track. Though don’t minimize the power of just another buzz word. If a new term for nonprofit becomes the buzz about town ,it starts conversations, it’s referenced in articles and interviews, it builds momentum by spotlighting some incredible work that social/enviro entrepreneurs already do. The details of actionable meaning can follow.

    Take, for example “organic.” The word became popular then defined and regulated for industry. It became a household word and raised significant conversations in many households.

    Let’s start a national conversation about businesses for greater benefit. Nau.

  • January 28, 2007 at 8:10 am | Karl says

    Will has an interesting idea on his post, referring to NGOs and SGOs. John’s point is well taken also, in that benefits must be measurable and tangible. How about something that combines the two – like Alternate Benefit Organization (ABO)?

    And, by the way – has anyone from Nau been in touch with William McDonough or Michael Braungart of ‘Cradle to Cradle’ fame? Talk about your valuable resources…


  • February 1, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Ian says


    We are certainly familiar with McDonough and Braungart but we have not been in direct contact with them.

  • February 10, 2007 at 3:59 pm | Ellen says

    Thank you for this debate. As an arts organization dedicated to the support of filmmaking, my nonprofit organization struggles to explain our role, especially because, in addition to our educational and artistic programs, we operate a movie theater that was a commercial theater for 70 years. I think it’s also difficult for film organizations to be understood as nonprofits because the art form of filmmaking is often driven solely by commercial purposes…Participant Productions and others are the exception to the rule!

    While I have no worthy suggestions for correct new terminology, I wanted to make the following observations:

    1. The term “nonprofit” gives one the sense that we’re not really a business, yet we are. We can’t overdraw our bank account any more than any other business or we eventually cease to exist. It’s true that profit is not our motive, but positive results and institutional survival certainly are. Still, eliminating the relationship to “profit” or the bottom line may or may not be the right message.

    2. The term “nonprofit” is also too broad – nonprofits run the spectrum in terms of what they can provide to donors (not all donations to nonprofits are tax deductible!) to what their purpose is and how they do their work. I recognize that most of the discussion has been looking at wording that fits environmental or social service nonprofits, but what about the others? While we are an arts organization, we support other social, environmental, educational and artistic causes through our work. Finding terminology that fits and conveys the real meaning of our work is a dilemma.

    Again, thanks for the debate.

  • February 11, 2007 at 11:29 am | Ian says


    I like your commentary. I use to run the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School. Although it was a “nonprofit,” as you point out, my performance was judged across two dimesions: the delivery of our educational mission and our business results. Regarding the latter we had annual tuition fee goals, fundraising goals, safety related goals, participation rate goals, all of which were judged by a Board Of Directors that included individuals with substantial business experience. The idea that a nonprofit does not have to function like a business, which the term implies, is indeed a falllacy.

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