i just read jordan viator's summary of the nonprofit technology conference's session on the generational divide in philanthropy, a topic that's close to my heart. as the leader of an organization that seeks to engage generation Y in philanthropy, i was struck by the negative connotation assigned to generation Y asking "what's in it for me?" that might seem crass if you embrace the old-school notion that creating social good requires unflagging sacrifice and altruism, but the new model of social enterprise is starting to prove that wrong.
i used to think the “one-way” business model of traditional non-profits was the best conduit for positive social impact, but subsequent exposure to next-generation social enterprises, whose business models are inspired by the private sector, showed me that i was wrong. the “two-way” models of the private sector are more sustainable and may be even more effective.
the business models of traditional non-profits are “one-way” because they don't necessarily give the funding sources anything in exchange -- they are completely dependent on a donor’s financial excesses and/or generosity. as a result, many traditional non-profits struggle if there is an economic downturn or if their causes go out of vogue. business model sustainability is important because funding shortfalls mean poorer quality programs, difficulty retaining high-value employees, and inability to reach the scale needed to make widespread change. as a student, i had only a vague understanding of these concepts; i thought it was just part of the noble struggle required to do good work.
after years of working in the private sector, i've realized how important sustainability and efficiency are to maintaining an enterprise’s viability. that's why i've made it a priority to work with organizations that employ a different business model. rather than simply solicit donations and funnel them to charity partners, event production company philanthro productions creates ways for young people to give back in sustainable ways -- by giving them a valuable product in return. philanthro satisfies our generation's need to know "what's in it for me?" all while raising funds and awareness for partner charities. the company's “two-way” business model ensures its sustainability, generating loyal patronage, constant revenue, and high contribution rates. philanthro has also made it a goal to work with partners (like online micro-lending platform kiva) that embody the same “two-way” philosophy.
i agreed with most of the conference summary, but it's not enough for organizations seeking to reach generation Y to create a facebook page. my generation may come across as selfish, but i think our tastes are pushing forward-thinking organizations to develop business models that sustainably solve social problems.