Non-Profits As Businesses
Recently, we received a letter from a man that was disappointed that we were operating like “a business” instead of a charity. He stated that he would be pulling his support from Philabundance and “giving it to a real charity instead.” I was disturbed by his letter and felt frustrated that he could not see the work we are trying to do in the community, feeding 65,000 people per week, but as I thought about it further, my frustration turned to confusion. I began to wonder about his perception. Why, as a non-profit, are we not permitted to run like a business in order to do good work in an efficient and effective way?
At Philabundance, we strive to keep our operating costs at a very low 9%. In fact, .91 cents of every dollar goes to the acquisition, storage, and distribution of food and surrounding activities like maintaining a food hotline, managing senior citizen food resources and training those without job skills in the culinary arts. That we run these activities like a business is an important component in this fight against hunger.
Our Executive Director, Bill Clark, often compares fighting hunger to fighting a war. Wars are not done as charitable activities but as strategic, tactical initiatives that can be won (or lost) based on efficient, economical campaigns. They require an army of dedicated, passionate people and logistic capacity to move these people in the same direction toward the same goal. In the Delaware Valley, Philabundance is a large part of that army.
Therefore, to be compared to a business (in my eyes) is a compliment. To me, it means that we are strategic, innovative, and responsive to the business climate and constantly watching the bottom line. For us, that bottom line means how many people we feed, not how much profit we gain.
So, I put the question to you, our supporters: Can a non-profit run like a business and still focus on its mission?