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Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?

Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?

Amy Schiller critiques non-profits and the move to make a profit for charity. From The Atlantic:

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Charity is for patsies. If you really care about making the world a better place, buy a trendy bag. That was the logic Lauren Bush Lauren articulated in a 2013 interview about FEED, a for-profit entity she founded that creates simple, eco-friendly tote bags whose price covers the cost of donating school meals to children in Rwanda via the UN World Food Program. Her interviewer was Matthew Bishop, editor of The Economist and co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, perhaps the most prominent advocate for nonprofits to adopt business strategy and technique to fulfill their missions.

Consumptive outlets for our philanthropic impulses are more pervasive than ever. Yet, when charitable giving gets folded into market activity, the very space that philanthropy is supposed to provide as an alternative way of dealing with money shrinks. Traditional motivations for philanthropy, such as concern for mankind, creation of social capital, and responsibility to give back are subsumed into consumerism.

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Consumption philanthropy corrupts the very behavior that should expand our capacity for empathy and turns it into the social equivalent of paying a sex worker for “the girlfriend experience.” Philanthropy should imply a categorically different relationship with money than the one we have a consumers: something we embark on because we want to participate in a larger goal of improving the world and linking our values, histories, and resources with the needs of other people. Instead, this sector is increasingly vulnerable to what Michael Sandel calls “the corrosive tendency of markets” to crowd out non-market values. “When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold,” according to Sandel, “we decide…that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use.”

If we insist that this is the only way to effectively address massive social problems, we resign ourselves to a world dictated by consumer impulses. From our Warby Parker glasses all the way down to our TOMS shoes, we can cover ourselves head-to-toe with signifiers of empathy in lieu of actual connection to humans who need help. Philanthropy means “love of humanity.” Yet as philanthropy merges and then is overridden by consumer activity, it is our own humanity that gets lost in the process.

How might you see this process working to raise funds for Episcopal Relief or your local church?

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