TED Talk Tuesday: Rethinking Charity

With my recent work at my PR firm, I’ve focused a lot on corporate social responsibility. It’s got me thinking again about sustainability and how businesses can generate a triple bottom line—soliciting financial, environmental, and social returns (Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!). And yes, huge companies really can do that. In fact, I’m reading a book right now called Everybody’s Business, which argues that huge companies are those best prepared to make an impact because they influence market trends and they have the tools that drive innovation.

A little back story: I was really hesitant to study social entrepreneurship, partly because I didn’t want to take a class with AB (for obvious reasons not at all limited to the small detail that we’re both incredibly competitive) and partly because I thought all that “do-gooder” stuff was idealistic. How, in a post-2008 world, can a company rely on donations from strangers? But my professor showed me that there are ways to get-‘er-done that make financial sense, too. So I drank the Kool Aid and jumped onto the CSR / triple return bandwagon and never looked back…

Until Dan Pallotta made me take an even deeper look. Philanthropies (which run on donations) aren’t a hopeless model, he argues. It’s just that we expect them to fix problems without the resources of huge companies. We expect them to draw talent without proper incentives. We expect them to have a zero balance at the end of the year, and spend a minimal amount on “overhead.” He argues: Why do we let for-profit companies “invest” in long-term R&D and initiatives, build their brand and team and resources…but not non-profits?

Oh, and he does it all with some endearingly self-deprecating humor. Enjoy!