The difference between non-profits and for-profit companies is “nothing but a tax status” : Lets focus on impact

15 Feb
2017

The philanthropic community witnessed the opening moves of Google.org, a for-profit entity through which Google plans to conduct its charitable operations. As a profit-making enterprise, Google.org can do certain things that by law a nonprofit cannot. It can decide for itself what counts as a worthy cause, rather than hewing to the Internal Revenue Service’s definition of a tax-exempt charity. And if Google.org succeeds at financing, say, the invention of the next generation of hybrid cars, it can make money even as it makes the planet a better place.

Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, and his wife Jean are using their estimated $1.4bn fortune to promote a revolution in philanthropy and to encourage the development of companies who have a social mission as well as a goal of making money. Their approach is emblematic of the new thinking among technologists about how to marry for-profit and non-profit organisations in the service of tackling the world’s greatest challenges — a theme taken up in dramatic public fashion by Facebook’s 31-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg earlier this month. Mr Zuckerberg promised to dedicate his $45bn Facebook fortune to “advance human potential and promote equality for all children”, and said he would do it through a limited liability company, not a traditional foundation, so that he could invest in for-profit companies and lobby for political change.

Welcome to the world of brand-enhancing, profit-making, tax-paying philanthropy. Its proponents argue that we’ve become so accustomed to the idea that philanthropy has to operate within the confines of certain legal strictures that we’ve lost sight of what really matters: the good you foster, not necessarily how you go about fostering it. The trend, it seems, is likely here to stay as it appears to be carried and sustained by demographics: “The Deloitte Millennials Report in 2013 showed that young people believe that the number one purpose of business is to benefit society, and the 2014 report showed that fifty per cent want to work for a business with ethical practices.”

With 65% young population, businesses operating in India need to have a real focus here. With such a large set of NGOs already operating in the country, there needs to be a common purpose of creating enhanced impact. There is a dire need for next generation of business leaders /entities to emerge that embrace profit and purpose as the new way to do business.

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