"Social" Profit: So Much More Than Semantics

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Social" Profit: So Much More Than Semantics

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

This piece was originally published in the Daily WRAGas part of Tamara's "A Voice from Philanthropy" monthly column.

Last month, at the annual conference of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (WRAG’s membership organization), I was asked to respond to the opening plenary speaker. David Grant, the former head of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in New Jersey, had been invited to speak on his book, The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations. For anyone struggling with qualitative assessment in a quantitative assessment-focused world, this book is a must-read. Actually, this is so well written that I recommend adding it to your summer beach reading list, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Today, I want to talk about the term, “social profit.” The title of David’s book took me back to a blog post that I wrote back in 2008. “Nonprofit? Nonsense” focused on my belief that, as a sector, it is ridiculous to define ourselves by what we are not. By not celebrating all that our sector brings to society, we become a part of our own marginalization. In the post, I feel that I presented a solid argument for another name, while I also chided our sector for using such a negative term.

For a few months after the post was published, WRAG proudly referred to our sector as the social profit sector, but then we slowly stopped. Our commitment to the language was not strong enough. We stopped using the term in our Daily posts and I also failed to discipline myself to continually use it. The term “nonprofit” is powerfully ingrained in all of us. It flows easily off our tongues, but we can change that. We have unlearned other terms. Cars are no longer “used.” They are “pre-owned.” Kentucky Fried Chicken has marketed us away from focusing on the fact that the chicken is fried, by using the name KFC. And you would never refer to me as “colored.”

So thank you, David Grant, not only for your message about defining success, but also for the reminder that we are, indeed, the social profit sector. We provide value within a large, and much needed, societal frame. To my social profit colleagues, please call me out if I drop back into old language. I’m starting over now.