Want to make lasting change? Get over your discomfort with money

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Photo via Shutterstock.

Whether we’re asking family for help, friends to pay us back, or funds to kick start a project, money is just one of those things that can make us feel weird.

But here’s the thing: we need money to take care of ourselves and others.  And for those of us working in the world of social good, we need money for our ideas, programs, and more. So why feel weird about it?

In a recent article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Kyle Zimmer from First Book argues that we need to start  looking at how social enterprises have no qualms about putting money first and working with for-profit partners.

Changing the world is a complicated business. You need a powerful mission that will inspire and motivate people; you need a problem that needs solving and an effective way to solve it.

But you also need funding. It’s critical, but rarely the part that inspires people. The fundraising teams of most nonprofits work behind the scenes, searching (and competing) for donations and grants to fund the organization. That’s the traditional approach, and while it has been effective in some cases, it’s not the way forward.

Nonprofit social enterprises are flipping that model around using collaborative disruption—they are putting the funding component front and center by making it an integral part of the core mission, and working with for-profits and other nontraditional partners to deliver on that mission.

These kinds of approaches take some people by surprise, particularly those used to a traditional charity model—we give you some money, and you go off and do some good work with it. But it’s challenging—and ineffective—to create real, lasting social change with the old model, because you’re always working uphill against market forces instead of making them work for you. The collaborative disruption model, where nonprofits invest in for-profits to drive mission-related advances, can be effective no matter the scale.

Zimmer goes on to talk about how First Book, which gives brand-new books to low-income communities, reached out to several publishers with a bid to buy $500,00 worth of books featuring diverse voices rarely represented in children’s literature for The Stories for All Project.

Publishers loved the idea. Demand for these types of books means the industry has a reason to produce more diverse titles, thus helping First Book sustain its programs.

“It’s a market-driven solution, and that means it’s permanent,” Zimmer says.

What do you think? If you have the resources to invest, is working with market forces the way to go?

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Comments (1)


  1. […] When it comes to fundraising, we often think of foundations and individual donations. However, many nonprofits are changing how they raise money, looking to venture capital and for-profit ventures for support. Join the discussions happening at the Chronicle Philanthropy, Freelancers Union, and our other blog Idealists in Action. […]


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