Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What do you mean by non-profit?

It's been really interesting in our conversations with local biofuels stakeholders, and interested third parties, that we often get questions along the lines of "Why a non-profit?" "What's the advantage?" "Aren't you leaving money on the table?" "Can't you do good and do well?"

Legitimate questions all. And we've done a lot of thinking about them, as explained in a previous post. But there are, I think, some underlying assumptions in the questions that may not be readily apparent.

It's kind of a hackneyed device, but let's start with a definition (Oxford American): "profit n. 1. an advantage or benefit obtained from doing something. [...]" Let me make it clear: Brad and I fully intend to profit from the work we are doing. We want cleaner air to breathe, local economic development, more independence from foreign sources of petroleum, ... See?

We finished our ASU LPEC class last night[1], and Brad presented our work-in-progress business plan for DBI. There was a great panel of business and community leaders present to listen and give feedback. And sure enough, we got it again... "What do you want to be a non-profit for?" But the follow-up was more interesting. The panelist shared his perception that he automatically shuts down his listening when he hears "non-profit business". And that is valuable feedback for us. It will help us frame our presentation to address that built-in bias.

There is really only one reason why we've chosen this business model. We believe by using it we'll maximize our profit. So please don't ascribe any pretense of noble purpose or higher calling to our work. This is pure enlightened self-interest.

[1] By the way, the class was really helpful. Recommended. Please send Brad or me email if you'd like more information on our class experience.

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