Sunday, December 28, 2008

Business Approach to Social Good - Rule #1: Don't Get Greedy

I have a good reason, for promoting NBC re-broadcast "Tech Awards for Global Uses of Technology to Benefit Humanity" Sunday, Dec. 28, at 9 pm PST. The show is also available online from the NBC web site billed as: "When technology is applied to philanthropy...Vision is turned into action....".
It so happened that I read an op-ed "The Sin in Doing Good Deeds" by Nicholas Kristof. It is the story of the failure of an event management company- unique in that the events raised money for charitable causes. The reason provided for its failure is about how the (stupid) world is against a business approach to philanthropy. It is a familiar tirade, a false argument, entirely unworthy of discussion. So I let it go. But then I read comments on the article and wondered how many potential social entrepreneurs would get discouraged by reading the story of Mr. Pallotta and his company? So I feel compelled to post this link to the tech laureates show - profitable businessmen doing social good. For one Mr Pallotta there are many more social entrepreneurs doing good and doing well. See for yourself.
The key to success in running a profitable business with a mission of doing social good is to not get too greedy - It sounds like that was the issue with Mr Pallotta - his argument being - "Greed is good - its Okay in regular business so its okay here too". First of all its not okay in regular business though they do get away with it (witness the mechanics of the current financial meltdown). Second - the money raised for social businesses often comes, at least initially, from charity sources -like people digging into savings- so moderation in business expense is key in keeping their loyalty. The parallel for regular business would be "delivering customer satisfaction" which obviously Mr Pallotta did not do. BUT - here is my issue - when his business failed - instead of being a good sport and fessing up, he becomes a cry-baby and writes a book about how business approach to "charity" does not work and then Kristof writes an op-ed, generalizing from this single data-point, instead of calling it something like "Pallotta Palaver" which would have been far more accurate.

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