Growing up, my family and I were very involved in our community theatre, which was probably my first close encounter with the term “non-profit.” As a kid, I wondered why selling tickets was so important if they weren’t looking for a profit. Of course, I soon learned that non-profit is far from meaning non-revenue-generating. Even if the prerogative of your organization isn’t to make a profit, you need money to operate and to further your vision. This fall, I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been working on the national resources team for Grand Aspirations. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the sources from which we get (or seek to get) funding.
Throughout November, we’re involved in an online voting competition to get a $50K grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project. While the organization has determined this is funding that is well worth seeking and I agree, it provides an opportunity to think about how non-profits are funded, and how wealth is created. In an environmental geography class this semester, there was a discussion on sustainable development and the notion (partly propagated by the environmental Kuznetz curve ) that wealth is necessary for environmental preservation. I found this problematic as it’s so frequently discussed in terms of wealth created through (the very unsustainable variety of) industrialization and consumption. So we’ll pollute and deplete and then we’ll have the cash to plant some trees?
Obviously, that’s a pretty brief and incomplete version of an extensive and complex issue, but that’s basically the conundrum I’ve been contemplating. Pepsi is an obvious example, since that funding is pretty directly branded. However, I’m sure that many foundations that would give grants to organizations like GA are at least partially funded by corporations with maybe less than desirable labor or environmental practices. I mean, I admittedly haven’t don’t research on this, but I think it’s a distinct possibility.
In the national teams there has been concern raised about getting stuck in grant cycles, and besides the fundamental problem of dependence, I would consider the factors discussed above another concern. It doesn’t bring me down though, it makes me really excited about opportunities we have for social entrepreneurship methods of revenue generating. Social entrepreneurship changes the story about how wealth is created, and can provide a good funding source for non-profits as well. If we’re trying to encourage such changes in our economy and society, shouldn’t we be getting the money to operate from activities that constitute acting out this vision?
That said, I really hope we do win the grant from Pepsi Refresh, so we can jump start a lot of this, and I encourage you to start voting daily if you haven’t already.
[Note:I did totally jack the title from this:]