Posts Tagged ‘Small Change’

Collaboration or competition? Let the nonprofit sector answer that question

Join us for the final installment of our interview with Michael Edwards about his book, Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. In this portion of the interview, find out where you can follow the debate about philanthrocapitalism, and learn more about Edwards’ views on collaboration versus competition.

CausePlanet: The notion of philanthrocapitalism sounds like the next new great idea at first blush—especially to those who haven’t read your book. Are there any blogs, newsletters or periodicals you would recommend that provide an ongoing, unbiased evaluation of philanthrocapitalism as it evolves?

Edwards: That’s a tough call, though I’m already beginning to see more pushback, constructive criticism and healthy debate about these questions. It’s still very difficult to be honest and open about this stuff because of a justifiable fear of offending the donors, and there’s a huge industry of advisers, consultants and bloggers who act as an echo chamber for the philanthrocapitalists and their views, often in ways that are quite divorced from the day-to-day concerns and experiences of the nonprofit community. But I would definitely recommend The Nonprofit Quarterly, for example, which does speak up and is not afraid to take up the difficult questions, and Blue Avocado. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is also very good, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy publishes opinions on both sides of the debate.

CausePlanet: Everyone talks a big game about collaboration in the nonprofit sector, but many nonprofits still don’t believe that a rising tide lifts all boats despite positive examples. You support collaboration by way of addressing businesses’ misguided favor of competition among nonprofits. Can you explain?

Edwards: This is one of the most contested issues in the debate over philanthrocapitalism, and it’s partly down to language. If “competition” simply means doing one’s best for the causes one believes in, or striving to be the best that we can be, then it would be odd to argue against it. But if it means competition in the formal, business sense of building market share against other providers, often by driving prices down and profits up, then I think that’s very damaging to the nonprofit mission of securing equal rights for all. After all, you can’t have too much social justice or compassion, and securing things like that requires a rich diversity of organizations acting like an ecosystem so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The elements of an ecosystem co-exist in a mutually-supportive relationship, they don’t compete. Obviously, nonprofits have to secure resources in environments where they are scarce, but that doesn’t mean that competition should define the sector and its work.

CausePlanet: What factors characterize high-performing, appropriate collaborations between philanthrocapitalists and nonprofits?

Edwards: Honesty, humility, authenticity, self-criticism and an equal valuing of what each has to bring to the table. Those qualities may be absent from many current collaborations (which are very one-sided, reflecting the power imbalance and structures of privilege that run through much of philanthropy), but they determine whether enough common ground exists to make the work effective, to set it on the right road, and to monitor and address any problems that arise along the way. There’s a saying from the foreign aid world that I think is relevant here: “If you have come to help me, go home now. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s get to work.” That captures the spirit of equality and mutual learning that all successful collaborations require. But that is very demanding, because it requires openness to change—deep, personal change—on both sides.

For more information about Small Change, visit Michael Edwards’ site at For the complete interview and summary, visit our summary store or subscribe to our monthly summaries of Page to Practice. Or, you can keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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A compelling critique of a seemingly beneficial trend

Michael Edwards’ book, Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World is an essential read for any nonprofit that’s engaging businesses with their mission. Edwards’ surprising look at the realities of partnering with philanthrocapitalists will prepare you to closely examine the strings attached to your next big corporate gift. Below you’ll find a compelling excerpt from our Page to Practice interview.

CausePlanet: Some say that blending capitalism and philanthropy is the best of both worlds, and you make many effective arguments against this philosophy in your book. What is the foremost reason, in your mind, for not blending the two worlds?

Edwards: You wouldn’t use a typewriter to plough a field or a tractor to write a book, so why use business and the market where they have no comparative advantage, in the complex world of social and political change? Capitalism and philanthropy (or civil society more broadly) are different instruments that are designed to answer different questions—both necessary and valuable, but different. I fear that by blending them together, we may weaken the ability of civil society to transform capitalism over the long haul. That doesn’t mean that these two worlds should continue in splendid isolation from one another, but real change will come when business acts more like civil society and not the other way around. Business should fix itself instead of meddling with others. The social impact would be enormous.

CausePlanet: Why do you think businesses do not respect or observe the comparative advantage nonprofits have with bringing about social change?

Edwards: The explosion of social responsibility in the business world over the last ten years is a historic development, but we haven’t thought hard enough about the costs and benefits of different ways of putting it into practice. People may believe that they can transfer the lessons that made them successful in the business world into the nonprofit world, especially when they see nonprofits as less efficient and effective than businesses, which is a common view. This is understandable, but deeply misguided. I think if business people spent more time on the frontlines of social change and experienced how nonprofits actually work in reality (often very well, and on a shoestring), they might develop a more nuanced view and a greater sense of humility. And as we know,”humility is the threshold of insight.”

CausePlanet: In your opinion, what about nonprofits seems to inspire the savior complex in philanthrocapitalists when the corporate sector has plenty of its own issues with the bottom line?

Edwards: I think it is much easier to focus on the problems of other people or institutions than your own! After all, this is a common human trait which can be found in the nonprofit world as well. That’s why corporate philanthropy is sometimes used as a smokescreen for socially-irresponsible practices. Correcting those practices means corporations paying their fair share of taxes, removing their lobbyists from politics, obeying regulations in the public interest, breaking up monopolies, supporting public health care and education, and creating better-paying jobs with more benefits. And all those things require pretty fundamental changes at the heart of business itself. I think that challenge is daunting, so there’s a natural tendency to eschew the obvious path to social impact and focus on philanthropy instead.

For more information about Small Change, visit Michael Edwards’ site at For the complete interview, visit our summary store or subscribe to our summary library. Or, you can keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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Recruit board members that are advocates—not drab-vocates

CausePlanet is tackling board governance this month with an article feature coming from national expert, coach, and author of Leveraging Good Will, Alice Korngold. She’s worked with national boards for more than 20 years so keep your eyes peeled mid-month.

Additionally, CausePlanet is offering a workshop for Denver nonprofit leaders with nonprofit strategist and board doctor extraordinaire, Denise Clark, at the Colorado Nonprofit Association on June 18 at 1 p.m. We call these workshops Fast Food for Thought because we cover terrific solutions on a nonprofit topic as well as feature a Page to Practice summary in 60 minutes. This month’s Fast Food for Thought is board governance and covers highlights from Exposing the Elephants by Pamela Wilcox, which tackles pesky personalities and problems on boards that undermine progress (apologies for the alliteration).

Don’t forget to visit our Page to Practice book summary this month, which is stop-you-in-your-tracks look at philanthrocapitalism, by Michael Edwards and called Small Change.

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Why business won’t save the world

CausePlanet is pleased to feature a terrific book this month that will have you rethinking how to partner with businesses and philanthropists: Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. Michael Edwards provides a refreshing and surprising look at the widely accepted but unproven success of philanthrocapitalism.

Edwards argues that the hype surrounding partnerships with businesses and philanthrocapitalists far exceeds the reality of outcomes when systemic change is involved. While there is “justifiable excitement” about the potential for progress in major global issues such as health, agriculture and access to microcredit, the reality is that no delivery of goods and services can eliminate inequities surrounding poverty and violence, for example—only the empowerment of those closest to the problem, as well as transformation of systems, values and key relationships can create meaningful change.

Because no nonprofit wants to appear unthankful for the generous opportunities that come their way, the rising debate about philanthrocapitalism’s shortfalls have hovered under the radar. Edwards’ book asks the tough questions and compels readers to examine the messy yet transformational nonprofit work in society versus the sometimes inappropriate reduction of societal problems to a bottom line.

For more information about Small Change, visit Michael Edwards’ site at or learn more about Page to Practice book summaries.

Image: Michael Edwards,

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