The legal definition of a non-profit or “public benefit” corporation is one thing, but public perception is the real issue here. The general public notion of a non-profit organization – see, I have to term it an “organization” because, although it is a corporation, the word “corporation” evokes suspicion or carries potentially negative connotation or says that you’re in it for the money – anyway, the public generally thinks that a non-profit “organization” does not really make money. But, if the non-profit doesn’t make any money, how do they pay employees? Oh, they don’t because everyone works for free. They’re all volunteers. Well how do they pay the rent for their office? They don’t: they work out of their home or car or the local church or at the local library. Ok, so how does the organization purchase any goods or materials for their projects? It’s all donated. All right, all right…how do they pay for hard costs like licensing, utilities, permits & fees, fuel for vehicles, etc.? Donations, donations, donations.
That model, despite how idealistic that sounds, just doesn’t work. Why? Simple: there are not enough donations. Unless you want the non-profit to impart the smallest splash in the pond, to absolutely minimize the amount of good work that they can do, the organization has to generate decent revenue. They have to market themselves, to advertise, and they have to pay their staff. Fine, pay your employees, but only minimum wage!
…So, it’s totally fine for the CEO of a for-profit company to, as an example, make $500k per year, plus bonuses, as they poison the earth or swindle public funds or leave hundreds of families homeless; generally leave the world worse off than they found it? That, we don’t have a problem with because…well, that’s the for-profit model: buck everyone to make a buck, lots of bucks. That’s to be expected. That’s “normal”.
But if a non-profit company wants to pay their CEO $200k a year for helping feed thousands of starving children in Africa (cliche much?) then that’s a serious problem. That’s ethical treason of the highest degree. Grab your pitchforks and torches!
We really ought to re-examine this notion.
How about we shift the paradigm and allow people who do real good, hard, public benefit work, such as teachers, janitors, carpenters, cooks, non-profit employees…to make really good money doing really good work? And how about we expect people doing unethical work to make unethical wages? Maybe if we defund jobs that are rooted in amoral activities, we will have more people attracted to doing good work and making the world cleaner, more healthy, more friendly, more cooperative, less competitive, less corrupt, less war-filled, less toxic.
But who wants that? Crazy hippie.
VIEW THIS TED TALK by Dan Pallotta. Seriously. Watch it.