Social enterprise works

To the editor,

It’s hard to disagree with Richard Newman’s observation [“Civil consensus requires collaboration”, 12.19.05) that a balanced business-nonprofit-government partnership is critical to the well-being of an independent nonprofit sector, but the critical word is “independent”.

Mr. Newman suggests that government sponsorship of nonprofits is good, by assuring First Amendment and equal-protection mandates, and that corporate sponsorship is not intrinsically corrupting, though caution is in order.

I suspect many nonprofits have discovered that government sponsorship is much more likely to interfere with the unrestrained pursuit of mission than the straightforward quid-pro-quo of dealing with the corporate sector.

That said, balance is obviously key, and Mr. Newman rightly refers to the three-legged stool of the government, corporate and nonprofit sectors.

But those three legs are not only mutually dependent; they must be equally strong.

The critical dimension of retaining the nonprofit sector’s all-important ability to “speak truth to power” therefore is not the source of its funding, but rather the terms under which those dollars are exchanged.

For many nonprofits, social enterprise — advancing a social mission by utilizing entrepreneurial, earned-income strategies — has proven to be a particularly effective means of generating the resources required for both sustainability and the unrestricted pursuit of mission.

Charitable gifts and grants serve important social purposes, but if used improperly or in improper measure, they perpetuate a dependency that makes true balance with the government and corporate sectors ultimately impossible.

In contrast, the fair exchange of a nonprofit’s services, knowledge and hard assets in the open marketplace creates the strength, self-confidence and accountability required for genuine partnership.

— Jim McClurg, vice president, Social Enterprise Alliance, Shoreline, Wash.

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