Michel Martin on NPR’s Tell Me More program discussing President Obama’s address to the business community introduced one of the guests as the owner of two nonprofit businesses. I gave me pause, can one ‘own’ a nonprofit?
The concept of owning a nonprofit is like laying claim to the sun. One cannot posses the enterprise and it does a disservice in my mind to assign ownership to a cause established to serve the public trust. By conferring dominion to a single individual we take the greatness out of the entity. None of us are able to own a nonprofit. It exists to meet a need that has a qualifying public benefit. The concept for a social sector cause may originate with a founder but by incorporating as a nonprofit, the founder is conveying their idea to the public. It is the ultimate gift. If they wished to retain ownership then a for-profit structure provides far greater protection of competitive advantage and proprietary information. If the social sector wishes to fully realize the magnitude of its influence and reach, it must be done by recognizing its dependency on others and not by building fortresses on the highest hills. Seth Godin found a far more eloquent way to express our need for inter-connectedness and building community in his blog post today.