Misguided Calls for Business Thinking
Monday, June 9, 2008
?Philanthrocapitalism? is all the rage these days ? the use of business thinking to strengthen philanthropy and the not-for-profit world, which is the world I have been working in since 1982. If I had a dollar for every time I?ve been told to ?behave more like a business? I would be a successful philanthrocapitalist myself.
The problem is that these calls are misguided and possibly even dangerous. They threaten to erode the distinctive values and independence of the not-for-profit sector and reduce it to little more than a subset of the market.
And that could be disastrous for the many community organisations, social movements and campaigns that have been central to equality and social justice from the original struggle against slavery, through civil rights in the 1960s, to third world debt relief today and the global ban on landmines. Non-profit groups have always provided healthcare, education and social security to the poor, but their real impact lies in changing values and relationships at much deeper levels of society.
To many in the business world, my position may seem to make no sense, so let me explain why I have become so concerned.
The reason is that business and non-profits operate on different logics ? competition and co-operation, individualism and collective action, market share and sacrifice or service. You wouldn?t use a typewriter to plough a field or a tractor to write a book, so why use business thinking in areas where different instruments are needed?
There have always been areas of our lives that we deliberately protect from the narrow calculations of cost and profit ? our families for example, and our churches. Most non-profit groups are closer to these examples than to business and the market. That is because things such as love and solidarity have intrinsic value that cannot be traded off against production costs or profit, and because non-profits respond to universal rights and responsibilities rather than access according to your income.
If we lose touch with principles such as these, would society really be better off? I don?t think so.
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