Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"What are your real motives, Ted?"

About a year ago, I met with a man who is very active in the area nonprofit realm; he has founded a number of very successful nonprofits; his wife has run just one, a really, really important one, for 18 years now. These are people I admire deeply.

There was only one problem: as has sometimes happened to me since our move to Naples, he didn't know what to make of me. I get this question quite a bit: "What's in it for you?" Well, this man didn't ask me, but today I learned what I had long suspected, that he thought it. I learned that from a talk with his wife. She was kind enough to ask me outright, "Ted, what do you get out of your nonprofit work?"

I have to say, that's a really sad question to have to ask. I thought the point of charity was to benefit others, not yourself. She told me that's rare. So I wrote her an email, which you can read below.

GNL refers to Greater Naples Leadership, a group that her husband presided over and (I believe) helped found that trains affluent older folks to be active on social-sector boards. As you can read, it's a Who's Who of the nonprofit community here in Naples.

It occurred to me that perhaps I don't explain myself enough - despite my business background, I still may not toot my own horn sufficiently, so that people have no idea how I put food on the table. Oh, well. I'm a work in progress.

Dear _______,

Bob Juster's partner is Walt Burdick, also a GNL-er. We were featured in the same issue of Naples Illustrated Magazine (January); Bob's write-up said that their company in Immokalee, TMI, is a "for-benefit corporation," so I called Bob up to find out what that is. If you look at my think tank's web site (www.institutenaples.org) you'll see where we've come up with something we called a "for-profit charity." We're going to change the term to "for-benefit corporation," because it turns out that is a phrase being used on the forefront of the social sector now.

Ilene Leff, who I think you know from GNL, introduced me to a remarkable international organization she works with, www.ashoka.org out of DC. They help social entrepreneurs create organizations that are hybrid for-profit/non-profit. I didn't realize it until I studied up on Ashoka, but I guess I'm a social entrepreneur, too.

I understand your and your husband's skepticism of my motives. I'm a bleeding-heart capitalist, that's all. I think a lot of people who are good at making money find that rewarding in and of itself. They are often also motivated by the fear of not having enough. Not I. I see money as a means to two ends: financial security for my family, which doesn't require all that much cash, and charity. I'm sure I'd be Port-Royal rich by now if I cared about it more. But we're only a short walk to the beach, so we have nothing to complain about.

You folks are bleeding heart capitalists, too. Maybe you should give others more credit for being inspired as you are.