February 19, 2018

Viewpoint: Nonprofits and for-profits should collaborate

Angela Bovill, President and CEO of Ascentria Care Alliance.

Profits vs. prophets.

That is a simplistic way to view the difference between for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations. The purpose of a business is to make money for investors, while the purpose of a nonprofit is altruistic, if not spiritual: to help people in need.

But, having worked many years in the business world, and then a long time for a nonprofit, I'm struck by the increasing number of similarities.

Sure, businesses are more market-driven and competitive; they must be in order to survive. And most nonprofits rely on donors, volunteers, government contracts and community spirit. But, you might be surprised at how much nonprofits are becoming more business-like, while businesses are becoming more active in charitable and community causes. Even more interesting is the growing overlap of the two sectors. Businesses are partnering with nonprofits in ventures benefitting both.

It can combine the best of both – the efficiencies of business with the mission of a nonprofit. For example, one of the programs at Ascentria Care Alliance is senior residential services. We own facilities for skilled nursing and rehabilitation services for senior residents, yet we partner with an outstanding for-profit company to manage day-to-day operations. With the business's skills, capital and experience, we've been able to make vital improvements at the facilities. Who benefits? The residents, the staff, the neighborhoods, the vendors and both partner organizations. It's great to experience that facility in action because you view a world where things are well maintained and people really enjoy being part of a supportive community.

Social enterprise are ventures using commercial strategies for social causes. Our Language Bank employs more than 200 interpreters – mostly immigrants and resettled refugees – who provide interpretation, translation and training to hospitals, law firms, insurers and others.

Ascentria has programs across the entire spectrum of human services, and we are evaluating ways to innovate by considering partnerships with businesses in a parallel field. It's a great way to re-examine what we are doing by forcing us to imagine, "What if?" and "To what end?"

Henry David Thoreau said, "Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something." That challenge should give all of us a jolt, whether we're in a business or nonprofit. How can we be more productive by being more creative and collaborative? How can we give coworkers the sense of purpose needed for hard work and high morale?

Before Christmas, nonprofits had their biggest day of charitable donations, Giving Tuesday, right after retail businesses had their biggest day of sales, Black Friday. One day perhaps there'll be something called Partnership Monday, when businesses and nonprofits collaborating for the greater good challenge others to join them.

Angela Bovill is president and CEO of Worcester nonprofit Ascentria Care Alliance.


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