Like most good conference tweets, it sounds pithy and rousing, and while I like the sentiment, I also want to give it a serious poking.
The implication that – by definition – a ‘for-profit’ organisation lacks a purpose beyond chasing profit is wrong. If the people that keep you in existence (customers, employees) don’t believe you have a purpose, how are they going to believe in your future? You’re just not sustainable. When profit becomes your sole purpose, you don’t have long left.
Profit should simply be a by-product of achieving your purpose in a way that creates value for someone else.
So, while I can believe that the purpose of most not-for-profit organisations may be more up front – they don’t have exclusive rights to purpose, and I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend they do.
The not-for-profit label is crap. At best it’s boring and meaningless, at worst it reinforces a them-and-us mentality with the private sector. It almost insinuates that any organisation that makes profit must have nefarious intentions. Even worse, it nearly justifies lower wages for those working in the sector.
But I also know that the people I work with in the not-for-profit sector (generally) have a pretty good clarity of purpose – of their organisation and how their work connects to it. Personally, I think that’s something to be celebrated.
When I started thinking about all of this, I desperately wanted to come up with a better, cleverer and shinier label for non-profits that took profit out of the equation.
I realised that rather than just come up with another label that differentiated between those out to do social good, and those out to generate profit, it would be better if all organisations had a crystal clear and credible purpose in the world that everyone – especially employees – could believe in.
The more pin-sharp and credible that purpose was, the more people who contribute to it, and the more people who benefit from it, the longer it’s going to last.
And then, the issue of whether there was profit involved would be irrelevant.
Just a thought.