At a recent campus event that focused on desirable characteristics in a college president, a student from this elite liberal arts institution stated that she would never want to see the president of her school on stage with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The president's presence on stage with such a person, she said, would "violate the college's values--its commitment to social justice." On the other hand, the student explained, the president's public appearance with the head of a nonprofit organization would be consistent with those values.
This view is somewhat ironic given the trend at many colleges of rejecting the (jargon alert) "binary." That is, gender is complex and not simply a matter of male or female. Likewise, the black/white binary excludes those of other or mixed races. Progress.
Yet, it seems that that the rejection of the "binary" model has not yet been widely applied to the perception of nonprofits as opposed to corporations.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many college students and professors view nonprofits as good and corporations as evil. Yet nonprofits are, in fact, corporations that have certain tax benefits, and most colleges and universities in the United States are nonprofit corporations.
The National Football League? It's officially been a nonprofit since 1942 though that seems to be changing. In April, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league will forgo its tax exempt status because there had been scrutiny of its finances. It was "a distraction." According to the New York Times, Goodell made $35 million in 2014 in salary and bonuses; he was paid $44.2 million the previous year. According to Sports Illustrated, 33 players of this "charity" were arrested on charges involving domestic violence, battery, assault and murder from January 1, 2012 to September 17, 2014.
Those who promote the good/evil binary are seemingly not cognizant of the reports in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy and other journalistic outlets on fraudulent activity at a small but troubling number of nonprofits. Rogue nonprofit executives who steal from organizations do intend to benefit the common good and use donors' gifts to subsidize their own lifestyles.
Further, many students, professors and others don't know that one can advance humanitarian values through working for a corporation. Are students being taught about the emergence of social benefit corporations, B-certified corporations, or social corporate responsibility departments at Fortune 500 companies? Do they know about the conscious capitalism movement or, for instance, that Patagonia, based here in Southern California, has been a leader in corporate social responsibility for decades? Or that corporations, small and large, provide a large portion of the tax revenue that funds the amenities that the public enjoys?
The student to whom I referred was not aware of this reality. She was trapped in the old paradigm. And actually many others, regardless of age and education, are stuck in this old way of thinking as well. Unless they abandon the nonprofit=good/corporations=
evil binary, they will miss out on opportunities to advance her social justice values in ways they never would have imagined.