Brad Slaker, founder of DesignWise, didn’t set out to create a non-profit, he told a crowd at Business4Better. It just turned out to be the best business model. A “volunteer-based business model” meant they could design products for a fraction of the usual cost, so it became feasible to focus on what is usually an under-funded field – pediatrics. “I worked in the medical device industry for 20 years; I never even heard of a pediatric project being initiated,” he reported. Now he works on them all the time.
Of course, a volunteer-based business would just be about free labor if the only goal were capital. But Slaker’s real goal is to create products to help kids that otherwise would suffer. He just wants the effort to be self-sustaining.
He thinks about DesignWise as a business. It’s just a business that is valued on more than financial growth.
This theme of mixing business with non-fiscal goals and mixing “doing good” with a business approach colored my whole day at Business4Better today. It’s like there was a massive business-non-profit mind meld unfolding in front of me.
- The head of CSR at Adobe told me she thinks more non-profits should think like businesses. She meant they should measure their progress against defined goals, be entrepreneurial in reaching out to other businesses, and recognize that they might very well have more in common with the other small and medium businesses around them than other giant not-for-profits. This, based on her own past running a non-profit.
- On the flip side of the equation, Sara Olsen from SVT Group pointed out in the “Measuring What Matters” session that businesses typically only measure “a tiny sliver of what we actually value.” Looking exclusively at financial accounting under looks the need to account for other kinds of value. SVP Group, B Corp, and many others offer methodologies to do accounting for things like sustainability and environmental impact.
If businesses are measuring success complexly and non-profits are seeing themselves like businesses, the distinctions between them become increasingly meaningless.