Our good friends at The Trust For Public Land recently shared with us this TED Talk by Dan Pollotta, author of “Uncharitable.” It’s important viewing for anyone who cares about the future of pro-social marketing, and by extension our future in general.  It addresses how we as a society regularly put non-profit organizations at a severe competitive disadvantage at the very time we need them to solve large-scale social problems.

As Pollotta puts it, “it’s what happens when we confuse morality with frugality.” We often hold our NGOs accountable to a false bottom line, thus lowering their horizons when we should be encouraging them to put scale behind their ambitions.

Dan addresses what I call “our two economies” – that of the for-profit sector, and non-profit sector.  The statistics he cities are stark, starting with executive salaries: the current median compensation for a Stanford MBA hovers around $400,000 yet the CEO for a hunger charity needs to be content to make closer to $85,000.

In short, we’re depriving our non-governmental orgs of the talent, the time, and the risk capital required to do little more than keep the lights on and continue business as usual. 

The markets behave exactly like you’d expect when innovation and risk-taking go unrewarded.  Certainly the recent rise of social entrepreneurship and socially innovative businesses is heartening. But until we stop limiting our leading non-profits and encourage them to swing for the fences, achieving the healthier, more civil society we strive for becomes all the more difficult.

Freeing our non-profits to think big – at a scale commensurate with the challenges they face – would be the real social innovation.



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